Digital Tachographs: What are They and Does Your Fleet Need Them?

Every one in five serious traffic accidents are due to driver fatigue, and the drivers who spend the longest time on the road are, of course, drivers of commercial vehicles. Because of this, the EU has set limits on the amount of time that drivers can spend continuously on the road before taking a break. A tachograph is a device which is installed in a commercial vehicle to record speed and distance over time, in addition to driver hours. And, the data that they collect needs to be available to the relevant authority.

Analogue Vs. Digital Tachographs:

For several years, tachographs were analogue rather than digital devices. The speed, distance and driver activity data was marked on a wax-coated paper disc which revolved once per 24-hour period. However, these were cumbersome to use, and prone to error. The driver was required to switch discs over on a daily basis, and information such as the driver name and date was hand-written on the disc. And, it was also necessary to physically collect and store the discs.

On top of this, tampering was also common amongst drivers and operators using analogue tachographs, with many finding easy ways to short-circuit the devices, leading to a partial loss of information. And some drivers even found ways to manipulate the way that the discs moved, so that they could work beyond their allocated hours without detection.

So, what is a digital tachograph? And, how does it compare to its analogue ancestors? Today, modern tachographs are much easier to use, and a lot harder to tamper with. Each driver is given their own personal card, which is inserted into the tachograph when the journey starts. This uses flash memory to record the driver activity, distance and speed which is downloaded by operators on a regular basis and stored for a minimum period of twelve months on average. You can learn more about tachographs and how they work by visiting FleetGO, a company providing tracking, monitoring, security and diagnostic services to business fleets.

What are the Business Benefits?

For vehicle operators, one of the biggest benefits of installing tachographs is to ensure legal compliance. Drivers found to be infringing law in terms of driving over time limits, for example, can be given a fine on the spot, and in more serious conditions or repeated offending, vehicles can be taken off the road by the relevant authority. In severe cases, the operator could find themselves in a position where their license is revoked, or they may be prosecuted in court, which can lead to heavy fines or prison sentences.

However, this isn’t the only benefit of having a fleet which is part of the tachograph system. Whilst it’s important to ensure that your company is fully legally compliant, there are wider benefits to enjoy. For example, modern digital tachographs are difficult to tamper with, therefore, this will help ensure that your competitors are also working to the same driver working time rules and regulations as yourself.

Combined with a vehicle tracking system, a digital tachograph can offer even further benefits. The tracking of driver behaviour leads to increased productivity, and can encourage drivers to drive safer and more responsibly, leading to increased fuel savings and a lower risk on the road. And, the ability to plan routes and track vehicles in real-time can lead to better customer service and satisfaction. Finally, vehicle tracking and tachograph data can provide much clearer insights into driver behaviour, offering a clear foundation for making improvements and increasing efficiency.

Rules and Regulations:

Whether you are required to install digital tachographs in your fleet vehicles by law or have decided to use them by choice in order to benefit from them, it’s important that you are aware of the rules and regulations surrounding commercial driving. The laws that relate to the working hours of commercial drivers will vary depending on the jurisdiction in which they are driving. And, the rules for any given journey will also depend on factors such as the type of vehicle, and any countries that it is passing through. For example, a journey that starts, ends, or passes through the UK will fall under UK domestic rules, EU rules, domestic rules of any other countries passed through, and AETR rules. AETR is a separate agreement, which was drawn up by seventeen non-EU countries including Ukraine and Turkey. AETR rules require drivers to be on the road for a maximum of 56 hours per week, drive no more than nine hours per day, and have a minimum rest period of forty-five minutes for each 4.5 hours of driving. A daily rest period of at least nine hours which is split into no more than two separate periods is also required.

When is a Tachograph Needed?

If you operate a vehicle with a total weight load of at least 3.5 tonnes that falls under either EU or AETR rules surrounding driving hours, then it’s legally required that you have a tachograph fitted. And, any commercial vehicle that has been registered on or after 1st May 2006 must also be fitted with a digital tachograph.

In addition, there are separate rules for both drivers and operators that must be adhered to. Rules for drivers concern the proper operation of both tachograph units and cards during a journey, whilst vehicle operators are surrounded by rules concerning the correct fitting, maintenance, and record-keeping of tachographs and their data. Rules are slightly different depending on whether the vehicle carries goods or passengers.

Tracking Systems with Tachograph Integration:

Today, most vehicle tracking systems that are designed for commercial fleets will come with tachograph integration as standard. Modern digital tachographs come with a communications port which is designed to feed data into tracking systems.

Once installed, the tachograph data will then add to the range of data available from the entire system, which is usually accessed and downloaded online. In addition to vehicle tracking, the tachograph will add the driver’s current state of work, and any remaining work hours and distance to travel, which allows for better planning and scheduling. It’s also possible to set up alerts that immediately notify you when a driver exceeds their designated hours or drivers over speed limits, so that you can quickly intervene. In addition, drivers who are paid by the hour can also benefit from having data automatically added to timesheets in order to achieve more efficient payroll processing.

Types of Tachograph Cards:

Lastly, it’s wise to be aware of the various types of tachograph cards available. For commercial fleets, the most commonly used is a company card, which locks data into the tachograph and ensures that the data cannot be accessed by another company, even if the vehicle changes ownership.

In general, there are four types of tachograph cards to work with. These are a company card, driver card, workshop and control cards. Driver cards are inserted into the tachograph by the driver themselves to record activity such as driving and rest, whilst control cards are used by relevant authorities and law enforcement agencies to retrieve data from the tachograph. These cards are able to override any locks put in place by operators. Company cards are used by the employer to retrieve data, and lastly, workshop cards are used by authorised technicians for the purpose of calibrating, installing or repairing the system.

Now you know what digital tachographs are and the benefits they can provide, does your fleet need a tachograph system?