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Costs and Benefits of Digital Tachographs

Up to one in five serious road accidents are the result of driver fatigue. The drivers who spend the longest amount of time continuously on the road are of course drivers of commercial vehicles. For this reason the UK and EU have set limits on the amount of time drivers of goods and passenger vehicles can drive without taking a break.

Tachographs are devices installed in commercial vehicles which record speed and distance over time. They also record driver hours. The data they collect must be available to the relevant authority (for example, VOSA in the UK) on demand.

Analogue and Digital Tachographs

For many years tachographs were analogue devices. They marked speed, distance and driver activity on a wax-coated paper disc that revolved once every 24 hours. These were cumbersome and prone to error. They required the driver to switch discs over each day and hand write certain information on the disc (like name, date etc). They also required the physical collection and storage of discs.

Tampering was also common with analogue tachographs. Drivers and operators found many ways to short circuit the devices and cause partial information loss. There were also ways to manipulate the way the discs moved so drivers could work beyond their allotted hours.

Modern tachographs are of course digital, much easier to use and much less prone to user error and tampering. Each driver has their own personal card which they insert into the tachograph at the beginning of their journey. This records their activity, distance and speeds using flash memory. The tachograph itself also has its own memory banks for recording the same data. Transport authorities demand that operators download data from both driver cards and tachograph units on a regular basis. This data must be kept for a minimum period (usually 12 months).

Business Benefits of Digital Tachographs

As a vehicle operator the primary benefit of installing tachographs in your goods or passenger vehicles is compliance with the law. VOSA Authorised Examiners can issue fixed penalties to drivers on the spot for infringements. Where vehicle operators are guilty of infringements VOSA can take vehicles off the road. They can refer the case to the Traffic Commissioner to revoke the operator’s licence. They can even prosecute the case in court which could lead to heavy fines and even prison sentences.

There are wider benefits to being part of the tachograph system though. Modern tachographs are hard to tamper with which ensures that your competition is abiding to the same driver working time regulations as you.

When combined with a vehicle tracking system the benefits are multi-fold:

  • increased productivity and fuel cost savings through the tracking of driver behaviour;
  • better customer service through enhanced route planning and real-time location tracking; and
  • greater efficiency through the insights that come with vehicle tracking data.

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Digital Tachograph Rules and Regulations

The laws that govern the working hours of commercial drivers vary between different jurisdictions. The rules for a particular journey will depend on the type of vehicle and the countries involved. A journey that starts in the UK could fall under UK domestic rules, EU rules, the domestic rules of any countries visited or AETR rules. (AETR is a separate agreement drawn up between 17 non-EU countries including Turkey and Ukraine).

For example a journey which starts in the UK and passes through both EU countries and, say, Belarus, would fall under AETR rules. These require that: drivers are on the road for a maximum of 56 hours per week; that they drive no more than 9 hours per day; that they get a minimum rest of 45 minutes per 4.5 hours of driving; and a daily rest period of at least 9 hours split into no more than two periods etc, etc.

Working out which rules apply to a particular journey is rather complicated. The UK government provides copious online guidance.

When Do You Need a Tachograph?

If the vehicle you operate has a total weight (with load) that exceeds 3.5 tonnes and it falls under either EU or AETR rules on drivers’ hours then you must have a tachograph fitted. In addition, all vehicles registered on or after May 1st 2006 must be fitted with a digital tachograph.

Rules for drivers concern the proper operation of tachograph units and cards during journeys. Rules for vehicle operators concern the fitting, maintenance and record keeping associated with tachographs. Rules are slightly different for goods vehicles and passenger carrying vehicles. Both require that tachographs are installed, calibrated and sealed either by the vehicle manufacturer or a VOSA approved supplier.

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Digital Tachograph Card Costs

Each driver must have their own, personalised digital tachograph card. They must use the card on every journey and be able to produce it at the roadside. These are available from the DVLA on application at a cost of £32 each. The card carries the driver’s picture and signature in the same way that a photocard driving licence does. In fact the DVLA will use the driver’s existing details so there’s no need to provide them again.

Operators can apply for digital tachograph cards on their driver’s behalf but each application must be submitted separately.

A company will also need its own tachograph card to download data from tachographs in its vehicles. A company can hold up to 2,232 of these cards, each of which costs £32 with a fee of £19 to replace a lost or stolen card.

Vehicle Tracking Systems with Digital Tachograph Integration

Most vehicle tracking systems designed for commercial fleets come with tachograph integration as standard. Digital tachographs have a communications port designed to feed data into such systems.

Once installed the data from the tachograph adds to the dimensions of data available. This is usually accessed and downloaded via a web portal. The tachograph adds your driver’s current work state, remaining journey distance and remaining work hours. This allows better planning and scheduling on-the-fly. You can also set up alerts for when your drivers exceed their allotted hours or break speed limits so that you can intervene.

Driver hours can also be set up to populate timesheets automatically for more efficient payroll processing.

While it is possible to buy a vehicle tracking system outright in the vast majority of cases vehicle tracking is sold as a service. This includes the lease of the vehicle tracking equipment and access to the data through an online portal or API.

To comply with the law tachograph units are always purchased, installed and maintained separately, by VOSA approved suppliers.

Prices for Systems with Tachograph Integration

Vehicle tracking systems which include tachograph integration tend to sit in the middle-to-high price range.

The TomTom Telematics Link 510, for example, has a suggested retail price of £249 per unit. It integrates with a tachograph and allows users to access data via TomTom’s WEBFLEET® software.

Prices for leasing vehicle tracking systems with tachograph integration start at around £15 per month per vehicle.

Since the number of vehicles in a fleet can vary a lot there’s often room for negotiation around the published prices. So it's always a good idea to get quotes from several suppliers. It’s also worth asking about hidden costs of vehicle tracking systems. These include installation costs, service and maintenance costs and even charges for software upgrades.