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In this section we will look at tachographs.  There are three main types to be aware of:




Tachographs record information such as time, distance, speed and activities and are utilised to ensure compliance with regulations.  Many believe these are a recent invention, however the first tachographs were used in trains as far back as 1844!  In the UK, drivers of commercial vehicles had to record details of their day using log books, then in 1985 the EU mandated the compulsory use of tachographs from 1986 onwards.  These first tachographs were analogue - paper based units of varying styles.  They increased in complexity and in 2006 the EU made the switch to digital.  From May 2006 onwards, all new vehicles had to be fitted with digital tachographs.  These required drivers to use a digital tachograph card.  From June 2019, the systems developed further and smart tachographs are required to be fitted to new vehicles.  Drivers now need a smart tachograph card.

In all cases, drivers should be able to produce the last 28 calendar days of driving records on the roadside - including analogue charts, driver card and any analogue manual entries made in that time.

Smart Tachographs

From June 2019 all new vehicles have to be fitted with smart digital tachographs.  The reasons for using smart digital tachographs include fraud prevention, regulation enforcement and reduction of administrative processes.

So what's new? These new tachograph units have the ability to record GPS data from an on-board GPS chip.  They record GPS positioning every 3 hours of accumulated driving and also at the start and end of duty.  The units also have a new Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) interface, new sealing requirements and a new Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) capability.

The DSRC allows authorities to access limited tachograph data while the vehicle is in motion, and allow for targeted intervention for severe regulation infringements. It cannot be used to automate fines and the data that is read 'on the fly' has to be deleted within 3 hours.  At present, there is no regulatory requirement for the DVSA to possess equipment to read these smart tachograph units, and at present the DVSA does not place this as a priority (this may not be the story for the rest of the EU - they may use this tech pretty much straight away).

Drivers using the new smart tachograph units will require a smart card.  Older digital cards (ie. those issued before 2019) cannot store all the data from the new units and will need updating to gain full capability.  The good news is if you have a driver card issued from 2019 onwards, chances are it'll be a smart one.  To get a smart card, apply for a digital tachograph card as normal through the government website.  To save you time, the link to the application is here:

Fifth Wheel Training - Smart Digital Tachograph - S1-SE5000-Connekt.png

Digital Tachographs

These units were introduced to vehicles registered on or after 1st May, 2006.

Data is stored both on the vehicle unit (VU) and the digital tachograph card (driver card).  As such, data needs to be downloaded from both periodically to ensure no data is lost.  The driver card needs to be downloaded every 28 days and the vehicle unit every 90 days - both ideally have their data downloaded more frequently than this.

Vehicles that are fitted with any type of digital tachograph unit require drivers to possess a driver card.  See the link above to obtain a driver card if you haven't already.

Vehicles will move without a card in the VU, though the VU will record that no card was used whilst moving.  

Printouts are occasionally required (when authorities request, for unforeseen circumstances, manual entries, record keeping and in the event of faults.  Sufficient paper is needed for these operations.  In the UK, sufficient is just that.  There is no requirement to carry a number of new rolls, however should a driver run out of paper when a print out is requested, penalties may be given.

There are no set list of authorities who can authorise removal of the driver card from the tachograph unit, however in every case, the driver should obtain a signature, date and ID of those who do.  The driver should not remove the card themselves without reason.

If a co-driver joins the driver in a vehicle with a digital tachograph fitted, they should put their card into slot 2 to ensure that breaks and rests are recorded.

Should the driver card become unusable (damage, loss or theft), the driver may use the VU to record activities for a maximum of 15 calendar days (or long if required to return back to base).In this event, the driver needs to print out at the start of the shift and the end.  In each, the driver writes their name, licence number and any extra manual entries, plus a signature for each.  Drivers in this situation should also notify DVLA and request a new card within 7 days.

Time on digital tachographs can only be altered plus or minus a minute every 7 days.  The tolerance for time differing from the actual time is 10 minutes, at 20 minutes penalties may be issued and the unit has to be made right before continuing.  The time displayed may be set to local time (eg. BST, EU time, etc) but the time used by the tachograph for record keeping is always Universal Time Coordinated (which is the same as GMT).  Care needs to be taken whenever local time deviates from this to ensure appropriate rests and breaks are taken.

Manual entries can easily be made on digital tachograph units - this is asked whenever a driver puts a driver card in the VU.  Alternately, written manual entries can be recorded on the back of the tachograph paper in the VU.

Analogue Tachographs

Analogue tachographs record details using three styli that create marks by pressure on wax coated card discs.  The outer stylus record vehicle speed (units may have differing limited speeds).  The middle stylus records the driver activity or mode.  Typically these are solid blocks, the thickest of which is drive, followed by POA, then other work and the thinnest being rest.  The inner stylus records distance, with each peak and each trough representing 5km.

Fifth Wheel Training - Analogue Tachographs

The mode for analogue tachographs can be changed by a knob that can be turned (remember the good old fashioned 'automatic' tachographs?), and the more recent ones had a digital face with the driver button (often simplified to a '1') acting as the mode switch.

It is very important to write the correct information on the charts.

Fifth Wheel Training analogue tachograph

As can be seen, a driver will need to write their surname & name, date and start/end location (town names), the vehicle registration number and the odometer readings (total not required).  Drivers must not fill in the end of shift town name before parking up!  It is also worth pointing out that at no point should the styli recordings be obscured by writing - this could result in a fine.


Manual entries can be created on the back of the chart by simply drawing a line for the mode at that time.  Manual entries are very important, and are one of the top reasons for drivers being fined (see later!).  Manual entries are used when not allocated a vehicle (eg yard work) or in the event of a fault.  The back of the tachograph chart also allows for extra vehicle details to be recorded, should the driver use more than one vehicle in their shift.  An alternative to this would be to use a new chart. 

The method for changing time on analogue tachograph units very much depends on the age of the unit.  The earlier, true analogue units have a small clock with a thumb wheel to change it.  In these cases, the driver needs to ensure the clock is correctly set to the current time (BST or GMT).  It can be tricky to spot morning or afternoon - if in doubt, a driver could put a new chart in, alter the mode and take it out to notice what half day is recorded.  As the units became more digitised, methods for altering the time changed too and became more in line with modern tachograph units.  The tolerance for time on tachographs is 10 minutes for an advisory to change, and 20 minutes is deemed as unacceptable, attracting penalties.

Different tachograph units require their own chart, and there may also be different charts for each tacho type depending on the speed limit for the vehicle.  The correct chart type and limited speed needs to be used or incomplete / inaccurate recordings are taken.

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