Digital tachographs

What’s it all about?

EC regulation No 561/2006, published in April 2006, replaced the regulation (3820/85) on EU drivers’ hours and made the fitment of digital tachographs mandatory in all new vehicles that require a tachograph as of 1 May 2006. There have been no changes, however, to the basic hours rules or to the vehicles exempted from using a tachograph. Nor is there any requirement to retrofit digital tachographs to existing vehicles.

How are they different from analogue devices?

The main difference with digital tachographs is that records are saved to a credit-card-sized smart card that is inserted into the vehicle unit, rather than onto a waxed paper chart. They also store data on the Vehicle Unit (VU) in the vehicle. Digital tachos record driver activity such as driving time, other work, rests and breaks to the driver smart card, as well as retaining the information in the basic vehicle unit. Other cards are used by other parties for company, workshop and enforcement purposes.

What are these cards and where can I get them?

There are four types of cards that can be used:

  • Driver's smart card: to be carried by drivers
  • Company card: for use by the vehicle operator
  • Workshop card: for use by approved calibration centres
  • Control card: used only by DVSA and police officials

Certain fees apply to each of the cards. To apply for driver or company cards, call the DVLA on 0870 850 1074. To apply for workshop cards, call DVSA on 01792 454336. Control cards are available only to DVSA and police officers for the purposes of enforcement.

What data does a digital tachograph hold?

The vehicle unit will hold data for around 12 months on the drivers of the vehicle and their periods of driving and duty, depending on the volumes of data generated. It also holds data relating to faults, over-speeding, tampering and calibration, as well as recording when its data has been accessed and by what cards.

How often should it be downloaded?

If the vehicle unit isn’t downloaded before its memory is full, it will start to overwrite the oldest data – leaving operators without the records they are legally required to hold. The law states that you must ensure that no data is lost. As a minimum, data must be downloaded from the VU:

  • Every 90 calendar days
  • Immediately before transferring control of the use of the vehicle to another person
  • Before permanently removing the unit from service in the vehicle
  • Without delay upon becoming aware that the unit is malfunctioning, if it is possible to download data
  • Without delay in any circumstances where it is reasonable foreseeable that data will be erased imminently

What about driver card downloads?

The driver card should hold up to around 28 working days’ data, depending on the volumes of data generated.

The law states that data must be downloaded from driver cards:

  • Every 28 calendar days
  • Immediately before the driver ceases to be employed by the undertaking
  • Without delay upon being aware that the card has been damaged or is malfunctioning, if possible
  • Without delay in any circumstances where it is reasonable foreseeable that data will be erased imminently
  • Where it is only possible to download the card via a vehicle unit, immediately before ceasing control of the vehicle

Can a digitally equipped vehicle be driven without a driver card?

Drivers aren’t obligated to apply for a smart card but may not drive a digital tacho equipped vehicle without one unless their card has been lost or stolen. A driver may continue to drive without his card for 15 calendar days in these circumstances. However, a replacement card must be applied for within seven calendar days.

If driving without a card, or if the driver card is damaged or malfunctions, drivers must by law use the vehicle unit’s facility to produce printed records of all relevant details, including the driver’s own details, and sign the printouts.

The printouts must be produced at the beginning and end of each journey.

Note that drivers who have been issued with a smart card must carry it with them at all times when driving a vehicle that falls under EU hours rules - whether or not they are driving a digital equipped vehicle.

Where can I find out more?

Points to ponder

  • Digital tachographs’ legal purpose is to record compliance with drivers’ hours rules and NOT the working time restrictions outlined in the Road Transport Directive – despite the fact that digital tachographs include an ‘available’ mode which may be used to record periods of availability for the purposes of working time compliance.
  • If a driver is going to drive both analogue and digital tachograph equipped vehicles in the same day, he must record the work in the analogue equipped vehicle on an analogue chart and work in the digital-equipped vehicle via his smart card. However, he should NOT manually enter the work already recorded on an analogue chart into the digital unit when he begins work in the digitally equipped vehicle.
  • Operators won’t be able to make any sense of the data downloaded from a vehicle unit or driver’s card (and thus will not be able to ensure compliance with the hours’ rules) without some sort of separate analysis software or service.
  • If you sell a vehicle equipped with a digital tachograph or have used a hire vehicle you are returning you need to ‘lock’ the data recorded in it using your company card to prevent another operator from accessing it.

Updated by Lucy Wood & Anton Balkitis
Freephone: 0800 046 3066

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