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Tachographs, the times (and the way they are recorded) are changing

Jul 11, 2014

The law has provided for a number of years that drivers of most large commercial vehicles are required to keep records of the hours that they work. 1982 saw the introduction of “the spy in the cab” or tachograph which recorded the drivers activities for all to see.

More recently, the breaks required to be taken during the day, the daily (overnight) breaks and weekly breaks (weekend) have been further complicated by the addition of the Working Time directive which is monitored by reference to tachograph records and which looks at a rolling period and adds in the complication of travelling staff as well as drivers.

The traditional tachograph relied on the driver changing a mode switch to change the way time was recorded from “driving”, “other work” and “rest modes”. The difficulty was that drivers often forgot to change the mode switch with the result that a false record could be created by driving with the mode in “rest” but the trace showing the vehicle moving. Enter the “automatic” tachograph which switched from recording “ driving” to either “other work” or “rest” depending on the mode the tachograph was in when the vehicle started to move. Therein was the problem, if a driver stopped to load his vehicle “other work” but did not change the mode switch after his last break, then the record could be taken as a falsification, a much more serious offence that at the upper end of the scale can carry a prison sentence .

As of 1 May 2006, all new vehicles requiring a tachograph had to be fitted with a digital tachograph which replaced the scratching of white wax off a black paper disc with a drivers card and a hard drive. A requirement has been introduced to stop the mis-recording of time this works by requiring that all tachographs drop into “other work” on the vehicle stopping  requiring an input from the driver to record “rest”. A further complication is that some digital tachographs have been set up to drop into “rest” when the ignition is turned off. This is all very well but when a driver is supervising loading or carrying out a daily inspection this is “other work”.

The overall confusion of the situation is added to by smaller operators in the process of updating their fleets having some newer vehicles with digital tachographs whilst still operating older vehicles with sheets.

What are the modes?    
  • Driving time: picture of a steering wheel:  this is the recorded driving time not including periods when the vehicle is stationary for a period too short to be recorded as a break or where the “other work” mode is operated.
  • Break: picture of a bed: time free for the driver to dispose of as his or her own (note that minimum periods apply)
  • Other Work: picture of crossed hammers: supervision of loading and unloading, daily safety inspections and repairs and driving a vehicle for work which does not require a tachograph (driving a van to collect a vehicle that is away from its operating centre.
  • Periods of availability: a square with a line through it: being carried in a vehicle as a second driver but not actually driving, what would otherwise be rest but the driver is required to be there so the time is not free to dispose of as his own.
Employers responsibility
  • Ensure that drivers select the correct mode switch position
  • Ensure that those responsible for reviewing drivers hours records, particularly on old style sheets, have enough knowledge to interpret them correctly
  • Ensure that the records cover all the time that driver spends working rather than simply driving time
  • Ensure that drivers record daily inspections of their vehicles as other work before driving off. 

Traffic Commissioners may interpret a lack of such a record at the start of each day as an indication that no daily inspection took place, or that if it did it was not recorded as other work and is therefore a falsification.

At Public Inquiry, Traffic Commissioners will look through daily inspection records and note when there are never any defects (a very unusual vehicle indeed that never blows a bulb!) and they are also likely to note that the same pen is used, the handwriting gets more abbreviated towards the end of a sequence and  records sheets that are shiny and new (and look strikingly like they have been written out in a rush the day before the Public Inquiry!)

We would much rather you pressed the HELP button before your operators licence and/ or professional qualification as a transport manager is on the line, than the PANIC button because it is.


Pete Dodd

About the author

Pete Dodd

Pete joined Nockolds in 2004 as a Partner within the Family Team. Before joining the firm Pete graduated from Bristol University with a degree in ...

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