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Digital tachos: retrofit now!

I would strongly advise members to consider the views aired in the September edition of ROADWAY concerning the differences between the first and second-generation digital tachograph.

When the digital tachograph was first introduced in May 2006, the European Union issued clear guidance about the relationship between the way analogue and digital tachographs record driving time and how enforcement by member states should reflect this. I refer to Guidance Note 4 to Regulations EC 561/2006 and EEC 3821/85.

The guidance note points out that drivers involved in frequent or multi-drop or stop/start operations may be faced with higher records of driving time when using the (first generation) digital tachograph than would be the case with an analogue tachograph. Compensating for the differences, the EU said that member states could allow up to 15 minutes tolerance over a 4.5-hour block of driving time, provided such claims could be supported by evidence.

At the time the EU said this was because the digital tachograph recorded driving time more accurately than the analogue. We all know that it was because it rounds up driving time to the next whole minute.

The introduction of the second-generation digital tachograph means that the operators of large commercial vehicles now have the opportunity to redress the balance. Operator tests, run in conjunction with the tachograph manufacturers, have proved that there is a profound difference between the way the old and new digital tachographs record driving time. The second generation only records the activity that accounts for the larger part of a minute and there are significant productivity gains to be had, as was illustrated by the trial conducted by RHA member Smith’s of Denny. Operators can retrofit the new tachograph now and, according to the tachograph manufacturers, the cost of doing so should be recouped in a relatively short time. All newly-registered vehicles must be fitted with version two from 1 October this year.

A major aim of the EU’s “Social Legislation in Road Transport” – the legislation behind all of this – was to harmonise conditions of competition between operators. The existence of the second digital tachograph raises the distinct possibility of competing operators being in a position where one would be prosecuted while another does not breach the regulations for the same working practices. As driving time recorded on an identical journey by both types of tachograph can vary up to as much as an hour – favouring the second generation unit and by even more if it is true multi-drop work – there could be legal challenges in the pipeline.

Unfortunately the RHA’s view is that there is very little prospect of VOSA or the DfT being minded to change its policies on enforcement. Currently, the official view is clear: the driver has driven the number of hours that the tachograph fitted to their vehicle says they have driven.

At some point the EU will no doubt issue guidance on this, but that will take some time and will need member states to lobby for it. So our advice to members is retrofitting is the best way to address the current imbalance.

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