Last reviewed 4 June 2019

James Backhouse and Andrew Woolfall from Backhouse Jones Solicitors summarise the changes to tachograph technology.


Tachographs are fitted to some six million trucks and buses throughout the EU. They are designed to allow a driver’s activity to be monitored so as to create a harmonisation of working conditions throughout Europe, prevent fatigue, protect public safety and ensure fair competition and conformity with the law. The European Commission estimates that tachograph compliance costs the transport industry €2.7 billion. Whilst we have had the digital tachograph for many years now, June 2016 will see the next stage in its development including new data being recorded, the approach to enforcement and integration with other systems.

EU Regulations, in March 2016, laid the pathway for the introduction of the next generation “smart tachograph”. These new devices aim to reduce the administrative burden on the transport industries (covering both goods and passenger vehicles) and to eliminate the most serious forms of tampering or offence. Vehicles registered for the first time on or after 15 June 2019 will now have to be fitted with the new smart tachograph.

These new digital tachographs will incorporate a number of changes taking advantage of advances in technology and implementing many systems that some operators believe should have been present right from the first generation models.

Smart tachographs will see the introduction of Global Positioning System (GPS) for positioning and tracking a vehicle, remote enforcement capabilities and the ability to link the units to vehicle telematics systems. For many operators, the ability to see what a driver is doing in “real time” will be a huge bonus. For others, when one joins these developments to initiatives such as the now launched Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) “earned recognition” scheme (see also Earned Recognition and Roadside Stops in the feature, The changing face of enforcement in 2019), it may lead to accusations that the authorities want to snoop even further into their businesses.

1. Automated recording of precise location

The smart tachograph will automatically record the vehicle’s location using GPS at the following points:

  • the starting place of the daily working period

  • every three hours of accumulated driving time

  • the end place of the daily working period.

Currently, the digital tachograph only records a country code, for example “GB”. This is something that requires a manual input from the driver. That was, though, seen by many enforcement officers as a backward step when digital tachographs were introduced given that vehicles could not be located to a town or area. This has led to the occasional issue of being unable to positively prove tachograph fraud or breaches of environmental conditions. The new system will automatically record the precise location and thus will go even further than the old manual entry on a tachograph chart. No longer can there be any issue as to whereabouts within a town where the vehicle was — now its precise location will be known to a matter of a few metres. Drivers will not be able to specify incorrect locations.

This will invariably be a time-saving tool for roadside enforcement officers trying to determine if tachograph data is accurate. Both the EC and the British Government have also tried to claim it will also be a saving for operators, given the driver will no longer have to push the “start/stop” location buttons — a saving of several seconds a day which was calculated to save operators €350 a year. Sensibly, this no longer appears to be part of the justification.

2. Roadside interrogation of the tachograph

With the new smart tachographs, roadside enforcement officers will, in the future, be able to wirelessly scan the data of passing vehicles, without having to stop them, to detect some potential offences. This will enable officers to decide whether there is a need to stop the vehicle or not, much in the same way as the weigh in motion sensors (WIMS) are used to detect potential overloading offences.

However, while vehicles fitted with the new tachographs will be required to have the technology required to broadcast potential offences installed right away, enforcement authorities do not need to be equipped with the remote detection equipment, required to read this data, until 2034. DVSA has already indicated that it doesn’t intend to purchase the equipment just yet and will, in effect, wait until the next generation tachograph has become a lot more widespread in its usage before it starts investing in its own ‘receiving’ equipment. This means that this part of the new technology will not impact drivers in the UK for some time but for those travelling abroad into other EU Member States, the approach may be different. Other countries may well buy and deploy the ‘receiving’ technology sooner rather than later.

Once Member States do have the capacity to receive broadcasts, the information exchanged during a “scan” will relate to the following events or data recorded by the tachograph:

  • the latest security breach attempt

  • the longest power supply interruption

  • sensor fault

  • motion data error

  • vehicle motion conflict

  • driving without a valid card

  • card insertion while driving

  • time adjustment data

  • calibration data including the dates of the two most recent calibrations

  • vehicle registration data

  • speed recorded by the tachograph.

The data will not contain information about typical driver’s hours offences, such as exceeding daily driving or failing to take a break after 4½ hours.

The data exchanged between the vehicle and the enforcement authority may only be stored by the authority for the duration of the roadside check; it may not be retained for longer than three hours unless the data indicates a potential manipulation or misuse of the tachograph. The data received cannot lead to automatic penalties or fines for the driver or transport undertakings. In reality, if issues are detected by the scan, then this is likely to trigger a stop of the vehicle when there will be a full examination of the tachograph unit plus a download of the driver’s card and that will then lead to enforcement action.

3. Intelligent transport systems

The fourth generation smart tachograph will also be allowed to share its data with other approved vehicle telematics systems. Bringing a driver’s working hours easily into fleet telematics systems has been something long campaigned for by many operators. All information can now be kept in one place, in real time, without having to work on estimates of a driver’s duty or information being provided by the driver him- or herself. There can be real-time analysis and this can help load planning. There will, though, be two important protections to this, as follows.

  1. The telematics interface must not affect the authenticity and the integrity of the data of the tachograph.

  2. The external device connected to the interface can only have access to personal data, including geopositioning data, after the verifiable consent of the driver to whom the data relates.

A word of warning …

While many operators will welcome the advantages of having new smart tachographs (and many are already talking of having them retrofitted to parts of their older fleet in 2019 rather than just having them on new vehicles), businesses will have to realise that they will be holding even more valuable data than the existing systems. While the EC and the British Government have assumed that all operators have proper data protection procedures in place, the reality is that this is not true for many businesses. The new devices will see another level of personal information being stored about drivers while operators who carry high value loads will have to take note that these new systems could increase the risks they face, including having loads stolen — tachograph data may become an important tool in finding where such loads are parked or the routes that they take.

When the new regulation comes into effect for vehicles registered after 15th June 2019, there will be no immediate requirement for the equipment to be retrofitted to older trucks, buses and coaches. There are, however, plans to introduce this to older vehicles that travel onto the continent from 2034 — 15 years after the regulation comes into effect. This date is, though, subject to some debate with the EU looking to bring it forward if a consensus can be found. However, by then we will no doubt be on at least the fifth generation of digital tachograph and the rules will have invariably changed again for all operators.