Changes to the digital tachograph

Gordon Humphreys of Foster Tachographs highlights the changes to the Digital Tachograph Regulations from 1 October 2012 and the potential implications for goods vehicle and passenger transport operations and drivers.

Background to the changes

Council Regulation (EEC) 3821/85 controls the technical standards and rules of use of both analogue and digital tachographs. It aims to help enforce driving time, rest and break regulations of drivers to prevent fatigue and therefore promote road safety, and guarantee fair competition and road safety: the so-called “level playing field”, to which many operators aspire.

One of the major reasons for the introduction of digital tachographs in 2006 was to limit the possibilities of falsifying driver records (analogue tachograph charts), which had become prevalent in both the goods and passenger transport industry.

While some improvements did occur with the introduction of the digital recorder, the opportunity for falsifying records remained, with just the methods of manipulation being changed. Most people in the industry will probably have heard of anecdotal tales of drivers fitting various types of magnets and interrupter switches to bypass the recording of excess driving time or insufficient rest periods and breaks.

In July 2011, the European Commission put forward a proposal aimed at “better enforcement of the social rules and at reducing unnecessary administrative burden, by developing the technical aspects of the tachograph and increasing efficiency”. This required an amendment to Council Regulation (EEC) 3821/85, which was done under Commission Regulation (EU) 1266/2009.

From 1 October 2011, new tachograph fitments introduced an initial phase of changes. These included a different method of recording driving time as opposed to the original digital tachographs in use from 1 May 2006, and the increase in the storing of company locks from the last 20 to the last 255 locks.

From October 2012, those new fitments will require a further revised tachograph that will be enhanced to support the stated aim of detecting fraud.

What will change inside the recorder?

Regulation (EU) 1266/2009 states that the purpose of the change is that “the communication of electronic data between the source of vehicle movement and the motion sensor should be protected against tampering, such as by the use of magnets, and that vehicle movement data should be corroborated by additional and independent, internal and external sources”.

Amendments have been made to Council Regulation (EEC) 3821/85, with two significant changes that have the specific intention of countering deliberate manipulation.

  1. First, sensors fitted to the revised units will be required to be unaffected by “the nearby presence of a magnetic field”; so the new sensors will be magnet-proof.

  2. Second, a further sensor will be fitted whose sole purpose is to detect movement of the vehicle, rather than just the current configuration, which monitors speed. These two sensors will be compared and should in effect match “movement for movement” or “stationary period for stationary period”. Should a mismatch take place then an “EVENT” will be triggered under the normal EVENTS and FAULTS reporting procedure.

How will this impact on detection?

Potentially, these changes may make a significant difference. Falsification of digital driver recordings are basically aimed at “not recording driving activity or alternatively showing rest periods when another activity has taken place”. This compares to the falsification of analogue charts, which could have written details entered falsely as well as manipulated recordings.

If a magnet is fitted to a digitally-equipped vehicle, unless that vehicle is stopped with the magnet fitted and in use, the detection of the event becomes very difficult to identify and prove. Prosecutions have been brought using ANPR (automatic number-plate recognition) cameras to show that the vehicle in question was physically moving when the digital recorder showed it to be stationary. However, such an in-depth enquiry cannot be conducted at the roadside and requires significant man hours input, including a full calibration of the vehicle unit at an approved centre. If the driver is not a UK resident then further obvious difficulties arise.

To support the level playing field argument, the introduction of these changes will potentially make “historic” interruptions and falsifications detectable at the roadside, with the times and dates of the EVENTS allowing investigators to concentrate their efforts on particular, specific times.

It is also worth noting that within the same legislation is an aim to introduce some type of GPS positioning with future digital recorders, which will only assist investigators further.

Scope of the impact

Following the revision of the Drivers’ Hours Regulations that were introduced in 2007 under Council Regulation 561/2006, the driving time and rest regulations for goods vehicle drivers and passenger-carrying drivers were virtually harmonised, apart from the 12-day rule for passenger vehicles. Both groups of drivers are therefore affected equally.

Potentially, these amendments will place an increased onus on operators who are under an obligation, under Article 10 Council Regulation 561/2006, to make regular checks on driver compliance. Clearly, with the identification of unrecorded movement being produced in the EVENTS and FAULTS memory or on printouts (if taken at the appropriate time), then operators have little room for manoeuvre should a driver transgress in this way.

The data will be stored permanently within the vehicle unit and therefore the appropriate report and investigation with respect to these files will be required by the responsible operator.

Retrospective fitting

There is, currently, no compulsory requirement to retrospectively fit newer models of tachographs. It should also be remembered that despite all the changes to the various models of tachographs over recent years, if a replacement tachograph head is to be fitted then, as a simple rule, it must be replaced by a tachograph head of the same model or of a more recent year. It cannot be replaced by an earlier model.

If, for example, a “second generation” tachograph head (October 2011–September 2012) were to become faulty on, say, 2 October 2012, it can be replaced with the same “second generation” model or with the new “third generation” model (activated on 1 October 2012, as outlined in this article). However, it cannot be replaced by the earlier “first generation” model. Best practice would suggest it prudent to select the latest model.