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Coronavirus: Drivers’ hours relaxation extended again

Lorry driver wearing a high-vis jacket in the cab

The Department for Transport (DfT) has announced a new relaxation of the enforcement of drivers’ hours in England, Scotland and Wales.

The temporary relaxation started from 12:01am yesterday (Wednesday, January 12) and will run until 11:59pm on February 10, 2022.

The DfT says that it has extended the relaxation of rules to reflect the ongoing disruption caused by coronavirus and the Omicron variant.

It said that the highly infectious variant was resulting in increased absence rates and outbreaks in specific workforces, including the transportation of goods.

The relaxation to the enforcement of drivers’ hours applies to anyone driving in Great Britain under the retained EU drivers’ hours rules and undertaking carriage of goods by road. It is not limited to specific sectors or journeys.

However, the DfT stressed that the drivers’ hours rules are an important road safety measure and any deviation from the rules must be a last resort, when other means of mitigating a situation have failed.

It also added that the temporary relaxation to the drivers’ hours rules must not be used if any one of the follow three conditions is not met:

1. Evidence of detriment to wider community

Proof that there is a significant risk of a threat to human and/or animal welfare or a failure of a particular supply chain that will have a serious impact on essential public services must be provided.

Transport operators must obtain, to their satisfaction, confirmation from their customers that such a risk exists and that the customer is unlikely to be able to resolve the risk in other ways.

In the context of the transportation of food, fuel and medicines, this would include avoiding the risk of acute shortages at retail outlets that would be readily apparent to consumers.

In respect of these sectors and essential public services, detrimental factors can include losses of production that would lead to shortages.

However, shortages at retail outlets are not a justification in respect of many types of goods, such as domestic building supplies, clothing or supplies to eat-in or takeaway food and drink.

2. Evidence that a relaxation would lead to a significant improvement in the situation

This includes evidence that the risk is unlikely to be resolved without using the relaxation.

3. Driver safety must not be compromised

Operators and self-employed drivers must assess the risks of using the temporary relaxation and implement suitable control measures and/or mitigations, so that the safety of the driver, other road users and those involved in loading and unloading is not compromised.

Transport managers should make sure that a risk assessment has been carried out and appropriate controls put in place.

They should also continue to monitor and review where necessary as long as the relaxation is used.

It is important to consider the risk of fatigue and the effect of the relaxation on shift patterns.

For example, if the relaxation related to daily driving time has been used, it should not be followed by a reduced daily rest period and should be used in the context of stable start times for shifts. 

DfT said that the temporary relaxation has been brought in primarily to add reliability and resilience to duty rosters, as opposed to extra scheduling of deliveries.

It is also essential that use of the relaxation is agreed genuinely with drivers involved, including in the light of a driver’s specific circumstances.

Drivers continue to be bound by the Road Transport (Working Time) Regulations 2005. This legally limits the amount of working time (including driving) a driver can do in any given week to a maximum of 60 hours, with an average of 48 hours a week calculated over a rolling 17- to 26-week period.

Relaxation of EU drivers’ hours rules

The retained EU drivers’ hours rules can be temporarily relaxed as follows:

  • The daily driving limit can be increased from 9 hours to 10 hours up to 4 times in a week (instead of the normal permitted increase to 10 hours twice a week) – all other daily driving limits remain at 9 hours

OR

  • The replacement of the requirement to take at least 2 weekly rest periods including at least one regular weekly rest period of at least 45 hours in a 2-week period, with an alternative permissible pattern of weekly rest periods as specified below, and an increase to the fortnightly driving limit from 90 hours to 99 hours

The alternative pattern of weekly rest periods for drivers using the relaxation related to weekly rest periods is as follows:

  • A regular weekly rest period is not required in a 2-week period provided 2 reduced weekly rest periods of at least 24 hours are taken.
  • Following this, and by the end of the next 2 weeks, 2 regular weekly rest periods must be taken. However, any reduction in weekly rest shall be compensated for in the normal way by an equivalent period of rest taken before the end of the third week following the week in question.
  • In addition, any rest taken as compensation for a reduced weekly rest period shall be attached to a regular weekly rest period of at least 45 hours (which can be split over 2 regular weekly rest periods).

This relaxation must not be used in combination with existing rules for international driving, which allow for 2 consecutive reduced weekly rest breaks in certain circumstances.

It is not recommended that this relaxation be used for drivers engaged partly in international journeys.

All other drivers’ hours rules remain in force unchanged, including the requirement for drivers to take a break period of at least 45 minutes after driving for 4 hours 30 minutes.

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