Have you met a professional driver who is not concerned about road safety? All of us who have driven a 16.5m or 18.75m long vehicle in city traffic are acutely aware of the additional hazards presented by pedestrians and cyclists around us, particularly in poor visibility. If the Direct Vision Standard (DVS) being introduced by Transport for London (TfL) on 1 March helps to remove some of the stress involved in city driving and reduces the number of people who lose their lives on London streets, it would be a good thing.

Even so, it could not have come at a worse time. The introduction, originally set for October 2020, had to be postponed until 1 March 2021 because of the pandemic and that date is looming up quickly. TfL has responded to concerns expressed by hauliers and organisations like the RHA about delays both in the application system and in having necessary equipment fitted to vehicles. Although the 1 March date still stands, TfL has granted a grace period of 90 days to operators who are having difficulty in fitting Safe Systems to vehicles that will need them. But that grace period only applies if the operator has applied to join TfL’s Allow List by 1 March.

Somerset operator Massey Wilcox has applied for 24 permits using TfL’s multi-vehicle application method. One was eligible for a permit immediately, 20 were zero star rated and the other three were not on the TfL database because they were new vehicles.

General Manager Ray Conneely takes up the story: “My biggest issue is the three that were not present on their database. Currently with new vehicles it can take up to 28 days for DVLA to update TFL’s database. Once it is on the list you can then apply, which can take another couple of weeks.”

It hasn’t ended there though: “It has been extremely difficult with installers insisting that vehicles are stood for 72 hours prior to fitment in order to reduce chances of residual viral contamination and cabs having to be totally cleared of personal property for the safety of the fitting staff.”

We took the problems up with TfL’s strategy and planning manager Alina Tuerk: “The 28-day delay is an issue for us, it’s really an issue for brand new vehicles, where we are relying on data from the DVLA to be able to pick them up on our database.”

One of the problems, says Tuerk is that TfL is currently limited to receiving data at 28-day intervals from DVLA. TfL has implemented systems improvements to try and combat this: “Even if it takes 28 days, there has been a shorter permit application time and one of our delivery partners who’s dealing with the single vehicle permit applications is now processing those within one day of receipt, so much quicker than it was before.”

Other steps include improving data transfer processes with some vehicle manufacturers. In some cases this means that TfL does not need to rely on DVLA data. TfL is also considering an option for operators to self-certify their zero star vehicles, on the understanding that the necessary work to fit Safe Systems is carried out.

The Road Haulage Association points to other problems surrounding fitting the equipment: “It is about sourcing the equipment, particularly if the supplies are coming from Europe, all wrapped up in that set of issues and then the time taken to fit the equipment”, says Chris Ashley, head of policy - environment and regulation. “We’re getting extensive feedback to say that the fitters involved are either furloughed or they’re self-isolating and in some circumstances we’ve had reports of fitters who are not actually willing to travel because they don’t want to spread the virus.”

That isn’t cutting much ice with TfL, though. Tuerk said TfL has spoken to a number of fitting companies both large and small: “They were looking at about a two week wait time at the moment, so with this grace period of 90 days, that should be able to take care of that.”

To qualify for the grace period, operators need to be on TfL’s Allow List. They will need to supply TfL with details of Safe Systems fitting dates and vehicle registration numbers. A special email address has been set up for the purpose on TfL’s DVS web page – details are below. But Tuerk stresses that operators must make sure they get onto the Allow List before 1 March: “They will not qualify afterwards”, she warns.