The departure check - the check for more safety on the road
Tuesday morning, 06:00. The first trucks are already rolling briskly out of the yard. The time pressure for professional drivers begins with the first minute of the working day. With just-in-time deliveries, increasing competition on the road and the parking situation at the rest areas, the temptation to shorten the departure check or at least make up some time is great. A cursory check must suffice. Put the last tick hastily on the checklist and let’s go. The clock is ticking.
Yet the departure check is not intended to hold up the drivers, but to ensure more safety on the roads in their own interest and at the same time to guarantee the economic efficiency of the commercial vehicles. After all, damage that is detected at an early stage during the daily vehicle check can be quickly repaired in the workshop. It is therefore obligatory for all professional drivers. Depending on the type of drive and other equipment features as well as the type of load, the inspection covers different aspects. A proper check takes about 15 minutes on average - and the quarter of an hour counts as working time: the tachograph is running.
How is the departure check legally regulated?
In the following paragraph we have to become paragraph riders for a moment. This is necessary because this text is not only intended to provide initial explanations, but also to give you the opportunity to take a closer look at the laws and regulations yourself afterwards. After all, when it comes to legal regulations, you should definitely have understood for yourself what exactly is required. We'll gallop through this dry-as-dust part, I promise!
The legal basis in Germany is derived from several laws that establish a uniform, clear framework for departure controls. For example, there are overarching regulations for all road users and regulations resulting from the employment relationship or the work equipment of commercial vehicles.
Already §23 StVO stipulates an obligation for departure checks that applies to all road users. This paragraph states that every vehicle driver is responsible for ensuring that the vehicle or train, combination and load are in accordance with the regulations and do not impair road safety. If defects are found, the driver is also obliged to remove the vehicle in question from circulation as soon as possible.
The provision of work equipment, which is regulated in Germany by the Ordinance on Industrial Safety and Health (BetrSichV), obliges the employer to ensure that work equipment is checked before use and, in the case of defects, that it is not used again until it has been repaired. And in the sense of the ordinance, a truck is just that: work equipment.
In addition, in Germany the Berufsgenossenschaft Verkehr (BG Verkehr) translates the accident prevention regulation of the statutory accident insurance in regulations 70 and 71 for vehicles into clear guidelines for professional drivers. Here we find the obligation of the driving personnel to carry out departure checks before the start of the journey and to report defects, as well as the obligation of the vehicle owner to enforce these checks. In principle 314-002, BG Verkehr also provides concrete information on implementation.
Incidentally, non-compliance can quickly become expensive: If an employer provides or uses a truck even though it has defects, a fine of 3,000 euros is due for this administrative offence. Depending on the effect of an improper departure check, the consequences for the driver can vary greatly. For example, the driver may be given a warning, but in drastic cases it may even be classified as a criminal offence.
What safety-relevant deficiencies are to be detected by the departure check?
Since the departure check is intended to ensure greater safety, all relevant areas of a vehicle are checked - in Germany this can be more than 100 different individual aspects. In addition to brakes, engine and drivetrain, the focus is on operating fluids, driver assistance systems (DAS), lighting, tires and suspension. The steering system, driver's cab, accessories and load securing are also checked. The driving personnel also checks constructs as well as (semi-)trailers and their couplings.
Some aspects are obvious - like the correct adjustment of the mirrors. However, the departure check also reminds drivers of aspects that are easily forgotten under time pressure but can have a considerable impact on road safety. For example, drivers in Germany must also check whether...
- foreign objects are trapped between the twin tires,
- the underside of the vehicle is free of plant parts, branches or other foreign bodies, and
- accessible V-belts show no visible damage or wear.
Regulations in Europe: A look across the border
Many professional drivers are not only on the road in this country. So are there any cross-border regulations of the European Union on the proper performance of a departure check?
That would be nice! No, there is no uniform European regulation for departure checks, only the additional equipment for the transport of dangerous goods is regulated transnationally. Many European countries have issued their own regulations, but these often differ only slightly from the German requirements. In addition, the directives also usually apply to both trucks and buses.
In Austria, for example, the regulations are almost identical to those in Germany. This applies both to the requirements by the legislator and to the guidelines for professional drivers by the General Accident Insurance Institution (AUVA), the local equivalent of the German BG Verkehr.
In the Czech Republic, in contrast to Germany, a spare wheel is not required but a sticker set or an up-to-date contract with a breakdown service is needed to meet all the requirements.
Looking at Italy, on the other hand, different weightings can be discerned, especially in the implementation of the downhill check. Some drivers assess tire pressure by kicking the tires, others use a hammer. In contrast, the Italian drivers place special emphasis on minimising blind spots.
The French take it a little more seriously with the intensity of the departure check: here, a duration of up to 30 minutes is estimated for the morning vehicle check.
In Great Britain, not all buses are the same as trucks
In England, Scotland and Wales there is a clear distinction between trucks and buses. In the case of vehicles used for passenger transport, the interior must be inspected intensively. Here, for example, the intercom system for communicating with the driver is tested for proper functioning. In addition, emergency hammers and exits of the buses have to be checked.
If a commercial vehicle is used in the logistics sector, electrical connections between the driver's cab and the body must be checked for defects. The emergency stop switch for high voltage is also part of the departure inspection there.
Compliance costs time - but can save a lot of money
Besides the legal constraints, however, there is a second reason why compliance with the departure check regulations is worthwhile: the costs. After all, defects discovered during the morning vehicle check should be repaired as quickly as possible in the workshop - especially if this could affect safety. Then, in the worst case, the vehicle remains unplanned - until it can be repaired in the workshop. This means: reloading the load, rescheduling vehicles and driving personnel, loss of time and delays, increased costs.
On the other hand, if you always have a detailed overview of the fleet's condition, you can optimise the processes in the workshop and prioritise workshop visits and on-site assignments by mechanics depending on the severity of the defect.
Digital solutions for convenient departure control with maximum safety
It makes sense on several levels that the departure check is carried out carefully, transparently and reliably in the morning. Above all, this requires time - a resource that is all too often in short supply for professional drivers. Digital solutions can help to ensure that this important, safety-relevant check is less frequently sacrificed to time pressure. Continental Verified Inspection banishes the clipboard and pen from the cab, combining proper and individual checks with the desire for an efficient solution. The quick scan of NFC tags with a smartphone saves time, ensures optimal maintenance processes and provides a little breathing space in the stressful daily driver routine.