Last reviewed 3 October 2017

Introduction

The mainstream media has been awash with news of the announcement that next year, “self-driving” lorries will be tested on UK roads. The concept involves platoons, limited (in the UK, at least) to three lorries travelling in close formation. The lead lorry will be controlled by a driver, while the other two will be programmed to communicate wirelessly with the leader, following digital instructions to accelerate and brake. All of the vehicles in the convoy will require human drivers to steer and if needed, to take full control of the vehicles at any time. Richard Pelly of Pellys Transport & Regulatory Law looks at the role that multi manning may play in this context, and reminds operators of the rules.

From a legal perspective, the concept throws up a number of interesting questions when it comes to the status of the convoy “drivers”, particularly when it comes to drivers’ hours. Or could the duties of the convoy drivers be interpreted as a “multi-manned” job, so that the drivers can take advantage of the applicable derogation when it comes to duty time and daily rest? Yet further questions arise. Does steering alone — or being prepared to resume control of the vehicle at any moment — count as “driving” — or will drivers be legitimately engaged in “other work” while in the following vehicles, thus reducing their overall driving time?

These are all questions to be answered — perhaps with new or amended legislation, especially given the Brexit negotiations — at some future date unknown.

The drivers’ hours laws, the scheduling issues, and the omnipresent threat of enforcement action or prosecution for infringing and non-compliance are in their own ways, comfortingly familiar.

On-the-spot fines

Recent changes may give operators cause for concern. The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has announced that its traffic examiners are to be given new powers to issue on-the-spot fines for drivers’ hours offences that have been committed within a 28-day period (with up to five separate penalties capable of being issued in a single roadside stop) as outlined in news item Drivers to face increased fines for not taking rests.

While the date from which these powers will be available is yet to be confirmed, what is confirmed is that from 1 November 2017, the DVSA will also have new powers to issue fixed penalties (with fines of up to £300) to drivers who take full 45-hour weekly rests in the vehicle cab where the parking location is deemed to be inappropriate — for example, in lay-bys or residential areas where litter, noise or anti-social behaviour are more likely. The change has two purposes: seeking to protect the public from anti-social behaviour, and ensuring that drivers are able to take a proper rest in comfortable surroundings, thus decreasing the likelihood of tiredness on the road.

Operators may feel that there are limits to the level of control that they are able to exert over drivers out on the road when it comes to ensuring that those drivers take breaks and rests when and where they should.

What operators do have complete control over is scheduling. Every duty should be planned to ensure that it is capable of being completed lawfully, with reference to the requirements for drivers to take the requisite breaks, and daily and weekly rest periods. No job should be planned in a way that makes it likely that a driver will be left stranded because she or he has “run out of hours” (or left with no option but to disregard the law and keep driving to get the job done), and planning should take into account the fact that drivers will need sufficient time to find a suitable place to take a daily or weekly rest to avoid the risk of a fixed penalty and fine under the new regime.

What is the “multi-manning” derogation?

The EC Drivers’ Hours Regulation (561/2006) provides a derogation from the normal rules on daily duty time and daily rest in situations where in a period between two daily rest periods (or a daily rest period and a weekly rest period), there are at least two drivers in the vehicle to do the driving.

The derogation allows both — or all — of the drivers engaged in the “multi-manned” duty to extend the period within which a minimum reduced 9-hour daily rest is required from 24 hours to 30 hours — meaning that the total duty for each driver can be extended to a maximum of 21 hours.

Daily driving limits remain the same, so even on a multi-manned job, no driver can undertake more than nine hours of cumulative driving within the overall duty period (or 10 hours, no more than twice during a week).

For a duty to be classed as “multi manned” and capable of taking advantage of the derogation, both drivers must be present for the entirety of the duty with the exception of the first hour — allowing time for the first driver to complete a walk-around check, prepare the vehicle, and (if necessary) collect the second and any additional driver(s).

Idle drivers are permitted to record breaks within the moving vehicle, as long as they are not engaged in any form of “other work”. This includes navigation or any job-related paperwork — and erring on the side of caution, should also include work-related phone calls.

It is certainly an attractive prospect for operators — a vehicle can get a lot further with two drivers capable, between them, of driving for a potential total of 20 hours within 30 hours!

Multi-manning pitfalls

Operators should be cautious of the traps involved in seeking to rely on the derogation and should ensure that both they and their drivers fully understand the “multi-manning” rules as outlined below.

Multi-manning rules

Drivers must be instructed (and reminded) to swap their digital driver cards between the “Driver 1 and Driver 2” slots in the vehicle unit as they swap between driving and breaks, periods of availability and other work. Most digital systems are programmed to record driving against the card in “slot 1” whenever the vehicle is moving — so failure to swap the cards risks recording inaccurate — and on the face of it, illegal — periods of consecutive driving on one driver’s card.

Taking full advantage of the derogation’s allowances necessarily requires a reduced daily rest; operators will need to keep in mind when scheduling that drivers are only permitted to take three reduced daily rests between any two weekly rest periods.

When it comes to weekly rest, care should also be taken. The effective increase in the length of a driver’s duty to a maximum of 21 hours (with a reduced daily rest to be completed within 30 hours) by reason of the “multi-manning” derogation does not alter the weekly rest requirement; 24 hours is not redefined as 30 hours. It is not open to an operator to schedule six consecutive 30-hour “multi-manning” jobs with a weekly rest to be taken after the sixth: a weekly rest period is required to begin no later than at the end of six 24-hour periods from the end of the last one.

Multi manning can help — but don’t let it hinder

The multi-manning derogation can undoubtedly be helpful to operators — but only if used properly, with careful scheduling. The moment that any of the conditions of the derogation are not capable of being complied with (even where the drivers are sharing duties on one journey), each driver involved will be governed as if on a single-man duty, and the usual duty and rest limits will apply.

Checking each driver’s tachograph records for compliance as soon as possible following a multi-manned duty is crucial, so that if mistakes are made, the operator can ensure that it responds promptly.

As to the way in which the rules will apply to driverless lorries? Watch this space!