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Studies have shown that around one in six of serious crashes are caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel. That's what service stations are for: freshen up, do a crossword and have a bite to eat before you're ready to go again.
But what if driving is your profession? Long shifts can take a toll on your concentration. Drivers' hours rules implemented in Britain and the European Union aim to reduce the risk of lorry, van, bus and coach drivers injuring themselves and other road users.
At the front of monitoring compliance with these laws are tachographs and as they move into the digital age they are playing a key role in ensuring the safety of working drivers.
Analogue tachodiscs consist of a wax-coated paper disc, or record sheets, which keep a record of a working driver's periods of duty. Three stylus plot passages into the wax-coated chart to measure the speed of the vehicle, the distance traveled and the 'mode' of the driver's activity. There are also areas to manually enter the entire daily shift period, any breaks taken and work done outside of the vehicle.
The newer, digital tachodiscs store all this information on an electronic 'smart card'. Legally, all commercial vehicles first registered on or after 1 May 2006 must be fitted with these digital tachographs, but analogue systems are still lawfully in operation in vehicles registered before that date.
The speedometer and the vehicle unit (VU) display make up the visible parts of the tachodisc. The VU is always set to Greenwich Mean Time and works by receiving a signal from a sender unit placed in the gearbox of the vehicle, which is sent to the speedometer unit where the driver can read it.
The digital unit holds detailed data in its memory, including all the drivers of that vehicle, any faults, any attempts to tamper with the system, speeding and the periods when it has been accessed by control officers from the police or the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA).
The smart card is the size of a credit card which stores your driving and vehicle data separately and is an added benefit of the new digital system. There are different smart cards which are suitable for either drivers, companies, workshops, VOSA and the police. They are normally valid for five years. New cards are issued for the same validity period as the original if the existing one becomes lost or stolen.
Under EU rules, you must use a driver smart card if you are driving a vehicle fitted with a digital tachograph. Drivers can apply for these via application packs available online or via the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). Companies can hold up to 2,232 smart cards.
It is important drivers keep proper records which makes tachodiscs all the more important. Under law, VOSA examiners have authority to inspect your vehicles, prohibit and direct them, investigate possible regulation violations and instigate magistrates' court hearings as well as conduct and appear at them.
Tachograph rules protect you from conviction if you can prove you took all reasonable steps to ensure your drivers recorded their periods of work correctly. EU law also covers unforeseen circumstances that unavoidably caused delay and breached rules, so long as they can be proven.
Failure to install or use a tachograph can result in fines of up to £ 5,000 so businesses with commercial vehicles would think twice before avoiding the issue.
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