Loading and unloading from the public highway is one of the most important concessions granted to commercial drivers. However on-street parking restrictions also make it one of the most controversial.
The balance between highway management and free enterprise, between traffic and trade is one in which the search for a happy equilibrium remains eternally elusive. While enforcement action against willful acts of illegal parking is welcomed by most people, there is a strong perception that on-street parking rules and regimes are made, many say, deliberately complex, are inadequately signed and excessively enforced, with scant regard for the crucial commercial right to load and unload goods from the public highway.
This article seeks to clarify the legal loading and unloading allowances motorists are allowed on key on-street restrictions including outlining and explaining little known Department of Transport guidelines on the relationship between this important activity and on-street parking enforcement.
What is loading/unloading?
The loading and unloading of goods from the public highway involves the transfer of heavy or bulky materials which it would be too difficult or dangerous to transport by hand, from a vehicle, to the pavement/nearby premise or vice versa. It must be visible and continuous and will not include light shopping or seeking change to feed a meter.
Probably the most difficult part of this definition for many delivery drivers is the ‘visible and continuous‘ caveat applied to the activity. I have dealt with this below in the subsection titled common controversies and central Government guidelines, using little known excerpts from the Department of Transport’s latest operational parking policy guidance to clarify the position on observation times and the visibility of loading.
But first it is important to clarify what the valid duration for loading is, where the activity is allowed and where it is prohibited.
Duration allowed for loading and unloading
The maximum time allowed for loading/unloading where it is permitted is 20 minutes, although in some areas it could be as high as 40 minutes.
Where Loading/Unloading is NOT permitted
- On yellow lines subject to live loading bans. This is when a single or double yellow line is accompanied by short yellow blips on the kerb called Kerb markings or chevrons. These chevrons signify a loading ban and must be accompanied by white upright signs specifying the periods of enforcement.
- Where a stopping ban exists such as an urban clearway (Bus stops and some Taxi ranks), certain sections of Red Routes, Pedestrian Crossing zig zags and School Keep Clear markings (zig zag)
- Suspended bays do not permit loading and unloading.
- Some personalised permit bays such as doctors bays also prohibit loading/unloading
- Loading and unloading is not permitted on disabled bays
Where Loading/Unloading IS Permitted
- All single and double yellow lines as long as they are not accompanied by live loading bans (kerb marks and white upright signs)
- Paid for and permit bays including meter, pay and display or pay and park, resident bays and loading bays.
- While not necessarily encouraged, loading from the footway is not expressly prohibited
Common Loading Controversies and Central government guidelines
Loading must be ‘Visible and continuous’ – is this always possible?
This might not always be practical or possible, particularly in the two circumstances which have been dealt with below. In most cases enforcement officers will observe a vehicle for no more than 5 minutes before issuing a parking ticket if no sign of the activity is seen. The problem with this for many delivery drivers is that occasionally the nature of the exercise might mean they would be unable to return to their vehicle within this period.
There are two main reasons commonly sited for this, both of which I have assessed below.
When delivering bulky/fragile materials to relatively distant places
This could be for instance the handling of heavy machinery, furniture or glass, requiring safe and careful handling. It could also be the need to deliver material to a distant place within a nearby premise, say the top floor of a high rise building or complicated basement of another. Clearly in such instances the five minutes observation might not be sufficient time to ascertain the presence or otherwise of loading.
In this instance the Government calls for greater discretion from local authorities, recommending a longer observation period. In its latest guidelines on parking enforcement published in November 2010, the Operational Guidance to Local Authorities: Parking Policy and Enforcement November 2010, the Department for Transport states in section 8.51
“In reality, especially for heavy commercial loading, the five minute observation (called continuous observation) may not always suffice to verify loading and unloading.” It then advises –
“Aperiod of continuous observation, without any sign of the activity (loading) provides better evidence that loading or unloading was not taking place However it (continuous observation) should not be considered conclusive proof even after a relatively long period as there are circumstances which could prevent the CEO from seeing this loading and unloading. Casual observationallows the CEO (enforcement officer) more freedom of movement and lets them cover a larger area which may be more useful at busy times.
A continuous observation refers to the 5 minute observation wherein the officer maintains a watching brief by the vehicle. However the recommended casual observation should be at least 20 minutes long and will not require the enforcing officer to remain in the area for the duration. It actually provides better and in many ways fairer proof of loading than the continuous observation as it allows the full complement of time legally permitted for the activity.
When delayed from returning to the vehicle due to paper work requirements
This occurs when the need to sign delivery or collection documents prevents the driver returning to the vehicle before a ticket issued.
Again the Department of Transport’s recommendations tend to support the delivery driver more than they do the enforcing authorities. The same Department of Transport document as above states in section 8.56 –
“…it is therefore important to clarify to CEO’s (Parking Attendants) that loading or unloading includes taking goods to where the recipient may be reasonably taken to require them in the premises, waiting for them to be checked, getting delivery or collection documents and returning to the vehicle”
This would again suggest that the part of the activity (loading/unloading) not necessarily visible to the attendant on street should be regarded as part of the time taken to complete it. Drivers in this category should send in copies of their paperwork when appealing parking tickets issued under such circumstances.