A tachograph is a device which monitors driving distances, speeds and duration. They play an important role in the motor trade in determining that drivers and their employers are adhering to legal requirements and laws concerning driver hours.
Tachographs fall into two main categories: analogue and digital. An analogue tachograph is essentially a manual record keeping system, where drivers record their time behind the wheel and complete specific data entries to ensure compliance with the law. However, any vehicle used for commercial purposes and registered after the start of May 2006 must be fitted with a digital tachograph. This comprises a smart card system where all driver activity is recorded. Haulage companies and drivers have different smart cards for information storage and retrieval, and each type comes with its own rules.
All tachographs have guidelines concerning record keeping, how to record rest days and holidays, and guidelines on multi-manning, where several people may operate the same vehicle. Employers and operators must also be aware how to correctly maintain equipment and calibrate it for usage.
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Many classes of vehicle fall under one of two main sets of rules as set down by the European Union (EU) or AETR (The European Agreement Concerning the Work of Crews of Vehicles Engaged in International Road Transport) (Link to PDF file). EU member nations have almost identical tachograph rules to those covered by the AETR, which governs driving for nations such as Russia, Turkey, Andorra, Albania and a dozen other non-EU states; each set of rules covers the same basic principles around restricting driver hours per day. Additionally, GB drivers have an additional set of guidelines to follow as set down by the DVLA.
EU rules stats that drivers cannot work more than 9 hours per day (with two weekly exemptions to a maximum of 10 hours), or more than 56 hours per week. There is a limit to 90 hours in any consecutive two week period, and all driving activity must be correctly recorded via tachograph. There are also firm guidelines on rest, such as a minimum of 11 hours rest per working day (with certain exemptions), and no less than 45 consecutive hours rest in any working week (again with exceptions). Drivers must also take a 45 minute minimum break every 4 1/2 hours. International coach drivers may take their longer weekly breaks after no more than 12 straight days from the previous one.
Certain vehicle classes and occupations are exempt from tachographs. These include any vehicle not covered by EU rules, such as small tow vehicles under 3.5 tonnes, and there are specific guidelines issued for recovery vehicles, horse boxes and trailers. Rules apply to new and used cars, so make sure you understand your legal requirement when acquiring a commercial vehicle. If a tachograph is not fitted, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) can advise where and how to do this. This can affect your insurance policy, so ensure you comply.
There are additional rules for GB domestic drivers. These cover issues such as “duty time”, and provide guidance on applying rules if you are self-employed or use the vehicle for both domestic and work purposes. The guidelines on daily limits are different, such as a maximum of 10 hours driving on public roads per day, including on trade plates. Off-road driving such as quarrying, building work, farming and agriculture are also covered. GB rules allow up to 5 and a half hours driving before a rest, and just one period of 24 off duty hours is required in any fortnight. GB rules also state that all driving must be recorded either manually or via a tachograph; exceptions include vehicles driven by the emergency or armed services, or any day in which you drive for under 4 hours.
GB drivers should also be aware of certain vehicles that aren’t covered by EU law, but which have GB guidelines. These include vehicles used for emergency aid, any vehicles limited to a maximum speed of 40 km/h, recovery vehicles, minibuses used by voluntary organisations, vehicles over 25 years old, and removal vans under 7.5 tonnes gross. A full set of exemptions is provided by the DVLA.