New smart tachograph requirements: implications for drivers and operators

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By Joanne La Roche, solicitor at Markel Law

In the biggest change in tachograph legislation for over a decade new HGVs and coaches are now required to be fitted with a ‘smart’ digital tachograph.

The devices, which have been fitted in all new vehicles since June of this year, have a GPS module able to store the vehicles location and enable some information can be accessed remotely by the DVSA.

The legislative requirement

The basic requirements haven’t changed. Fleets and drivers will still need to comply with Drivers’ Hours Legislation and the Working Time Directive.

Digital data will still need to be downloaded, stored and analysed.

Now, however, the GPS feature will record the vehicle’s start and end location, as well three-hourly updates.

This new information will also need to be downloaded, so transport operators must ensure their download tools are fit for purpose.

While the new smart tachographs will work with current driver’s cards, a new card will be required to store the additional information.

The new tachographs are mandatory in new vehicles; there is no duty on domestic operators to retrofit.

The duty on those crossing international boarders does not take effect until 2034.

Likely effect on DVSA prosecutions

The smart tachographs’ features may increase prosecutions brought by the DVSA. Typical offences in relation to tachographs are:

  • Exceeding driver’s hours without the required breaks / rest periods.
  • Failure to produce tachograph record sheet(s), driver card or print-outs at the roadside.
  • Failure to use a tachograph record sheet or driver card.
  • Knowingly making a false record or entry.

The latter is a catch-all offence whereby the DVSA can pursue a driver (or operator) for, amongst others, driving without a driver’s card, creating false manual entries, or using the incorrect mode.

A typical defence of a driver facing these allegations is simply that they weren’t driving the vehicle, it was someone else, or they were off-road and therefore out of scope of the regulations.

While the current tachographs could allow a driver to run that defence in that they only show when a card is inserted, ejected and a manual entry is made, it does not show where the vehicle is at any of the relevant times.

The new GPS aspect will now allow the DVSA to pin-point the vehicle’s location at the relevant times and make it harder for a driver or operator to defend their actions.

Implications for road-side checks

Inspectors can communicate remotely with the new tachographs using a secure short range radio device.

The data sent in this manner will identify possible security infringements, such as the absence of a valid card, the latest calibration data and speed recorded.

This is good news for road side checks as the remote system will remove the need to stop vehicles (unless an issue is found) and reduce time lost on unnecessary roadside inspections.

However, data obtained in this way must only be held for three hours unless there is an indication that the tachograph has been manipulated or misused.

The data cannot lead to automatic penalties or fines for the driver or operators and so in reality, if issues are flagged, they are likely to trigger a stop of the vehicle and a full examination of the tachograph plus a download of the driver’s card.

In addition, the remote check will not include the information typical to driver’s hours’ offences, such as breaks and driving time.

This will still require physical interrogation.

Start preparing now

Given the industry-wide development, it is important that all operators ensure their drivers are properly trained to operate tachographs compliantly, especially as the consequences for not doing so will become more immediate and strictly imposed.

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