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Rothera Sharp




The tachograph is essential to the life of a commercial lorry or coach driver, however, while appearing relatively uncomplicated, their use is the source of a lot of questions and confusion in the industry which can sometimes lead to disastrous consequences. So, if you’re new to commercial driving, or just want a reminder, here’s a short guide to tachographs from experienced transport solicitors, Rothera Sharp.

What is a tachograph?

A tachograph is a means of ensuring that all driving activity for a particular vehicle and driver can be recorded, including driving time, speed and distance. Its purpose is to ensure that all drivers and employers adhere to the laws on drivers’ hours. Historically, tachographs used a paper chart record, but all new vehicles now use a digital system, whereby the driver uses their own card inserted into the vehicle unit.

Do I need to use a tachograph?

If the goods vehicle you are driving comes under EU or AETR rules then you must use a tachograph. Generally this relates to a goods vehicle with a maximum legal weight of over 3.5 tonnes or a passenger carrying vehicle.

If you are the driver of a vehicle that is exempt from, or not in scope of EU rules, you are not required to use recording equipment, even if it is fitted, unless the vehicle is operated by a universal service provider. It is for the driver and vehicle user to demonstrate that an exemption applies and this legislation is notoriously complex.

If a vehicle is covered by the relevant regulations and has not had a tachograph installed you could face an unlimited fine.

Who is responsible for recording information on a tachograph?

Businesses utilising vehicles requiring tachographs will hold an Operator’s Licence issued by the Traffic Commissioner. They are obliged to have an effective system in place to analyse compliance with drivers’ hours rules, which includes having tachographs used properly and the records kept as required.

Drivers themselves are responsible for operating the tachograph and recording information on it to ensure their activities are recorded accurately and in full. It is important that the driver:

  • Confirms that the tachograph is working properly, and the time displayed shows the official time of the country in which the vehicle is registered.
  • Records all work, including non-driving work.

For analogue tachographs:

  • The correct information must be recorded on the centrefield panel when first using the chart, when changing vehicles and when completing their use of the chart;
  • The driver should carry enough charts for the journey as well as spares in case of damage or dirt.
  • The driver should use a second chart if the original chart is damaged while in use, or when changing vehicles multiple times, or changing to a vehicle with an incompatible tachograph to the chart in use.
  • The driver should carry 28 days’ records at all time when on duty, ready for a potential roadside inspection.

Are all tachographs the same?

There are two different types of tachograph – digital and analogue. For all commercial vehicles first registered on, or after 1 May 2006, a digital tachograph has to be fitted.

Recording information on an analogue tachograph involves a stylus cutting traces into a wax-coated chart, with three separate styluses marking speed, distance travelled and driver’s activity. The inner part of the tachograph (the centrefield) records the driver’s details, odometer readings, the date and place the record sheet begins and ends, the registration numbers of the vehicles driven and the time of any vehicle changes.

Digital tachographs store digital data on the driver and vehicle in their own memory, as well as separately on each driver’s individual smart card. Transport undertakings need to periodically download the data stored on the tachograph every 90 days, or every 28 days from driver cards, to analyse the information and check legal compliance.

An EU Directive has been issued to upgrade Tachographs to have GPS technology allowing authorities to access the stored information remotely. It is not clear when this will come into force in the UK or how this will impact enforcement by DVSA.

Do I need a driver’s card?

It is a legal requirement that for a vehicle fitted with a digital tachograph and driven in scope of the EU rules, the driver must have a driver’s card. If a driver who has been issued with a driver’s card is asked to produce their card during a roadside inspection and are unable to do so, even if they just drive vehicles equipped with analogue tachographs, they are committing an offence.

You can only be in possession of one driver’s card and you should never use anyone else’s card!

How many hours a day can I drive for?

The maximum daily driving time is 9 hours although this can be increased to 10 hours twice a week. The weekly limit is 56 hours between 00:00 on Sunday and 23:59 on the following Saturday. In any two consecutive weeks the total driving limit is 90 hours.

When do I need to take breaks and how much rest time am I entitled to?

After 4.5 hours of continuous driving you must have a break of at least 45 minutes; this can be split into shorter breaks during the 4.5 hours but your first break must be at least 15 minutes and your second break at least 30 minutes. During your breaks your tachograph should be switched to rest mode and you must not do any other work during this time.

You should take 11 consecutive hours of rest in a 24 hour period, or 45 consecutive hours for a week. Again this time should not be spent doing other work for your employer.

What should I do if an unforeseen event occurs under drivers’ hours rules?

In order to enable a driver to reach a safe stopping place and to ensure the safety of other people, the vehicle or the load, a departure from the EU rules may be permissible as long as it does not jeopardise road safety. A judgment by the European Court of Justice in 1995 states that a diversion from the rules only applies in cases where it is impossible to comply with the rules on drivers’ hours. In the event that this occurs, drivers must make a note of the reasons they diverted from the rules either on the back of their tachograph record sheets if they use an analogue tachograph, or on a printout or temporary sheet if using a digital tachograph, once they have reached a suitable stopping place. For example, whilst under drivers’ hours rules you could find yourself caught in a traffic jam as a result of an accident; if the vehicle’s engine is still running and is required to move then a break cannot be taken and an entry which explains the reason for departing from the rules must be made once a suitable stopping place is reached. However if you are stationary in a queue of traffic and have turned the engine off, you might be able to record a break as long as you are certain that you can freely dispose of your time, otherwise you should record “other work” or a period of availability.

If a tachograph is faulty do I need to keep a record?

Yes, drivers must make manual entries on the tachograph chart if the system develops a fault or in the event of an emergency. This also applies to other situations where they are unable to operate the instrument, have not been allocated a vehicle or are working away from the vehicle and have had to remove the tachograph chart.

What is the penalty for flouting the rules?

Currently the DVSA can issue fixed penalty notices to drivers who breach the rules that day or have ongoing offences, whereby they must take the offender to court. However under new draft regulations DVSA traffic examiners will be able to issue penalties for drivers’ hours offences committed over the past 28 days. The DVSA will also issue £300 on the spot fines to drivers who take their weekly 45 hour rest breaks in their vehicle. Alternatively, you may be prosecuted for flouting the rules and taken to court.

If you are found to have tampered with a tachograph the punishment is two years in prison and an unlimited fine. For further information see the DVSA’s guide on tachographs: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/drivers-hours-goods-vehicles

Anton Balkitis 

Partner and Motor Transport Solicitor. 

Rothera Sharp 


Introduction to hours & tachos

Introduction to hours and tachos

Still confused, need more information? why not try our one of our courses. 


The aim of this course is to instruct candidates in the basic use of both Analogue and digital tachographs, for anyone who has just started their journey in the industry.



To make candidates aware of their responsibilities with regards to recording their activity Correctly with regard to either on Analogue, or digital tachograph, or domestic recording systems.


The above course, An Introduction to Drivers’ Hours & Tachographs  is FREE in our Starter Pack.

If you have experience using the Analogue & Digital Tachographs, try our periodic CPC Hours & Tacho course which will update you with any new legislation and answer any questions you may have.

Please call our office for more information on these course. 01623 555661

for current drivers

periodic training

The driver cpc has been introduced with effect from Sept 2008 for drivers of buses and Sept 2009 for large goods vehicles (over 3.5 tonnes) , anyone wishing to drive a goods vehicle over 3.5 tonnes for their work will need to hold a driver cpc.

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