Call for relaxation to law on drivers’ hours

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The Government is being urged to relax the rules relating to truck drivers’ hours following the vote to leave the European Union.

A shake-up would deliver numerous business and economic benefits, ease traffic congestion and help overcome the driver shortage, says O’Donovan Waste Disposal, which operates an 85-strong commercial vehicle fleet from its North London base. It wants the Government to differentiate between the rules for ‘local’ short distance hauliers and long distance truckers.

Currently, the 1968 Transport Act, which was amended to incorporate the EU rules into UK law, allows truckers to drive a maximum 56 hours a week or 90 hours over a two-week period – subject to strict break and rest periods.

But Jacqueline O’Donovan, managing director of O’Donovan Waste Disposal, said the rules hampered many ‘local’ hauliers. She explained: “Our biggest problem is that employees have to take a 45-minute break after driving for a maximum of four hours 30 minutes, instead of having multi-rests throughout the day as the work schedule dictates.

“Our drivers average five jobs a day, when 20 years ago they averaged eight to 10 jobs. The number of jobs has reduced because of the conditions our drivers are working under; much of the time they are in the cab they can be in traffic jams, which eats up driving hours. They do not work arduous shifts covering long distances.”

Suggesting the growth of O’Donovan Waste Disposal was being held back by the regulatory regime, O’Donovan said: “The business functions Monday to Saturday and drivers want to work every Saturday, but they are limited by the rules even though the majority of journeys are no more than a few miles.

“Our drivers are not working long shifts or doing long haul or extensive mileage, so they should be given the chance to work every Saturday if they choose, rather than the current stipulation which limits them to every other week. 

“Many other people undertaking driving jobs, including taxi drivers, are allowed to work long hours without such strict restraints.”

She plans to raise the issue with the Road Haulage Association, the Freight Transport Association, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport and the Mineral Products’ Association. With their support it is hoped discussions will then open with the Department for Transport.

O’Donovan said: “European tachograph rules, although of paramount importance for long haul and international journeys, place an unnecessary restriction on local short distance hauliers, who are essentially working 7am to 5pm.”

By amending the Transport Act, O’Donovan could realign its workload so trucks were working when the roads were less busy. “That would deliver increased operating flexibility and enable the number of jobs undertaken per day to rise, and would simultaneously overcome the current skills shortage impacting on the entire haulage sector,” she said.

“While a relaxation of the current rules for short haul trips would be welcome, we would not want the door to be opened to opportunistic rogue hauliers who may seek to abuse drivers. Any initiative would need to be bulletproof and protect drivers, the wider public and ensure safety standards were upheld.”

However, a leading lawyer in the truck and logistics sector believes it is unlikely that there will be “any sudden changes”. Vikki Woodfine, partner and head of the road haulage and logistics group at law firm DWF, said: “I cannot see the Government walking away from the drivers’ hours set at European Union level, as there are elements of fair competition and road safety to consider as well as the professionalism of the industry.”

However, she said a two-tier system could emerge. She highlighted there was already one in respect of domestic rules, which impact on vehicles subject to Operating Licences (but outside of the scope of EU rules), and the related Great Britain domestic drivers’ hours rules.

While those rules also place restrictions on the hours and working time limits of drivers, Woodfine said: “There is no reason why the Government might not consider a move more towards domestic drivers’ hours’ legislation for Great Britain-only journeys once the UK has left the European Union. However, for drivers that do a combination of Great Britain and European driving, this could cause more confusion and compliance issues.”

What do you think? Should the tachograph rules for local short distance hauliers be relaxed? Click here to vote in our online poll.

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