How Many Hours Can Your Driver Drive?

June 5, 2020

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Key Takeaways

In this article, we’ll help you understand how drivers’ hours apply to your particular fleet by answering a series of commonly asked questions about how many hours a goods-carrying or passenger-carrying driver can actually drive. We’ll also show you how you can leverage your tachograph solution to easily abide by these driving and on-duty limits.

As a fleet manager, one of your top priorities is probably the safety of your drivers. The EU and GB instituted drivers’ hours legislation and working time directives to protect the safety of lorry and bus drivers and others on the road. But despite the clear intent of these regulations, navigating exactly what the rules are and how they apply to your fleet can be tricky. It can be especially difficult to understand the driving time limits your fleet must adhere to, as driving limits depend on a multitude of factors from the type of carrier you are to how often your drivers work per week to where they are traveling. In this article, we’ll help you understand how driving limits apply to your particular fleet by answering a series of commonly asked questions about how many hours a driver can actually drive. We’ll also show you how you can leverage your tachograph solution to easily abide by these driving and on-duty limits.

Why are there drivers’ hours limits in the first place?

The EU established driver hour legislation and working time directive as part of their compliance regulations to minimise driver fatigue in the haulage and passenger transit industry. Driver fatigue impacts alertness and can prevent drivers from focusing on the road and the task at hand. It can also reduce reaction times to severe or changing road conditions and other drivers’ behaviour—like if the vehicle in front suddenly slams on the brakes. Police statistics show that fatigue contributed to 4% of fatal road crashes and 2% of all collisions in Britain.

The purpose behind establishing tachograph regulations was to curb the negative impacts of driver fatigue and sleep deprivation. The tachograph requirement was enacted in 1985 to ensure compliance with these regulations while making it easier for carriers to log and track drivers’ hours. Not only have tachograph regulations helped improve safety, but they’ve also allowed companies to improve their efficiency. In fact, trucking companies who have used Samsara’s tachograph solution have saved up to 10 hours per week in backoffice overhead by eliminating manual collection and multiple servers.

What is a tachograph?

A tachograph is a device that records information about driving time, speed and distance. They’re used to make sure drivers and employers follow the rules on drivers’ hours. Many commercial vehicles, HGVs and buses come equipped with these tachographs already, but some will require installation. There are several types of tachographs:

  • Analogue Tachographs: Older vehicles may be equipped with analogue tachographs, which use wax paper sheets and require drivers to manually write their details in the centre of the paper sheet before selecting their mode. The driving hours’ data is then recorded onto the paper. 

  • Digital Tachographs: Any vehicle registered between May 2006 and June 2019 will likely be fitted with a digital tachograph. A digital tachograph features an electronic storage device and the ability to host a personal digital driver card, which allows each driver to track their own driving data wherever they go and no matter what tachograph they use.

  • Smart Tachograph: As of June 2019, companies are now required to use smart tachographs. Smart tachographs will include a GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System), allowing for automatic location recording. A driver’s location will be recorded at the start and the end of the journey, with an update being recorded every three hours during the drive.

Regardless of the type of tachograph you use in your fleet, you are still required to stay compliant with the Drivers’ Hours Legislation and Working Time Directive. All of these tachographs still require fleet managers to download drivers’ hours and vehicle hours data regularly, either manually or using a remote download system like Samsara’s.

Do I have to comply with drivers’ hours limits?

All vehicles over 3.5 tonnes must comply with the rules on how many hours you can drive and the breaks you need to take. Some vehicles under 3.5 tonnes are also eligible. This covers most commercial vehicles that fit the following descriptions:

  • Goods Carrying Vehicles: Most vehicles used for the carriage of goods by road and with a permissible weight (including any trailer or semi-trailer) of over 3.5 tonnes are in scope for the drivers’ hours rules.

  • Passenger Carrying Vehicles: Passenger carrying vehicles with more than 9 seats, including the driver, are required to use tachographs and follow drivers’ hours rules.

  • Light Duty: If you use a smaller vehicle (eg a 4x4) for towing or other purposes, you’ll only need a tachograph and to follow the drivers’ hours legislation if its total weight with the trailer is more than 3.5 tonnes.

If you operate a fleet that uses any amount of vehicles, lorries or buses that meet these requirements, you are required to comply with the truck driver hour limits outlined by the EU, AETR or GB.

Which set of rules applies to my vehicle?

There are several forms of drivers’ hours legislation and it can be difficult to know which ones apply to your fleet. The rules are different depending on which countries your vehicle will travel through and what type of vehicle you are operating. An easy way to evaluate your vehicle and which set of rules applies to it, is to consider the following criteria:

  1. What type of vehicle are you using?

  2. Where is that vehicle traveling?

Read below for more information on the rules you will likely encounter.

Driving hours’ rules for goods-carrying vehicles 

Goods-carrying vehicles weighing more than 3.5 tonnes must follow the EU driving hours’ rules. If the vehicle weighs less than 3.5 tonnes, please skip ahead to the light vehicle section.

The main EU rules on driving hours place limits on how long drivers can drive in a day and in a week period. Even a short period of driving under EU rules during any day by a driver will mean that they are in scope of the EU rules for the whole of that day and must comply with the daily driving, break and rest requirements; they will also have to comply with the weekly rest requirement and driving limit.

EU Driving hours

Daily Limits

The maximum daily driving limit is 9 hours. That maximum limit can be extended to 10 hours two times in a week. Daily driving is calculated as the total accumulated driving time between the end of one daily rest period and the beginning of the following daily rest period or the total accumulated driving time between a daily rest period and a weekly rest period.

Weekly limits

In a week, drivers cannot drive for more than 56 hours in a fixed week. However, the maximum driving time over any two-weekly period is 90 hours.

EU Break Rules

In addition to driving hours limits, there are also rules on breaks and rest that you must take. Under EU rules, after a driving period of no more than 4.5 hours, a driver must immediately take a break of at least 45 minutes unless they take a rest period. A break is defined as a period during which a driver is not driving or conducting any other work. It is used exclusively for recuperation. The full 45 minute break can be replaced by one break of at least 15 minutes followed by another break of at least 30 minutes. These breaks must be distributed over the 4.5 hour period.

EU rest rules

Daily Rest

It’s important for drivers to get adequate rest before driving. As such, a driver must take a daily rest period within a 24 hour period. There are a few options of types of rest that a driver can take. 

The first is a regular daily rest period which lasts for 11 hours or more. Alternatively, a driver can split the daily rest period into two segments; the first must be at least 3 hours uninterrupted rest and the second must be at least 9 hours of rest, for a total of 12 hours.

A driver may reduce their daily rest period to 9 continuous hours, but this can be done no more than three times between any two weekly rest periods.

Weekly Rest

Drivers must also make sure to get enough rest in a weekly period. A driver must start a weekly rest period no later than at the end of 6 consecutive 24 hour periods from the last weekly rest period. This weekly rest period should be an unbroken rest period of 45 hours, although you can reduce this to 24 hours every other week.

Drivers’ hours for light commercial vehicles

If your vehicle weighs under 3.5 tonnes, it may not need to follow EU driving rules. However, one of the main confusing areas is calculating that weight when a vehicle such as a van or a pick-up truck has a trailer attached.

In these cases, there are van tachograph rules and trailer tachograph rules which may apply. If the combined weight of the van plus trailer exceeds 3.5 tonnes, then it comes into the scope of the EU Drivers’ Hours rules, and so needs a tachograph. So while your Land Rover may not require a Tachograph on its own, if it is pulling a heavy trailer and the combined weight is greater than 3.5 tonnes, you will need to follow EU drivers’ hours rule and have a tachograph fitted.

However, if you are driving a light duty vehicle only within England, Scotland or Wales, you may be required to follow Great Britain driving hours’ rules. 

GB Driving Rules

Under GB rules, the maximum amount of driving permitted is 10 hours in any working day. The daily driving limit applies to driving on and off the public road. Off-road driving for the purposes of agriculture, quarrying, forestry, building work or civil engineering counts as duty rather than driving time.

Daily duty

On any working day the maximum amount of duty permitted is 11 hours. A driver is exempt from the daily duty limit (11 hours) on any working day when they do not drive. There are some exemptions and exceptions to this rule.

Breaks and continuous driving

After 5.5 hours of driving a break of at least 30 minutes must be taken in which the driver is able to obtain rest and refreshment.

Alternatively, within any period of 8.5 hours in the working day, total breaks amounting to at least 45 minutes are taken so that the driver does not drive for more than 7 hours and 45 minutes. The driver must also have a break of at least 30 minutes to obtain rest or refreshment at the end of this period, unless it is the end of the working day

These breaks do not have to be taken as a whole period of 30 or 45 minutes so long as the total amount of time taken adds up to the required amount at or before the end of the period of driving time.

Daily driving

In any working day, the maximum amount of driving is 10 hours. The daily driving limit applies to time spent at the wheel, actually driving, and includes any driving done under EU or AETR rules.

Length of working day (‘spreadover’)

A driver should work no more than 16 hours between the times of starting and finishing work (including work other than driving and off-duty periods during the working day).

Daily rest periods

A continuous rest of 10 hours must be taken between two consecutive working days. This can be reduced to 8.5 hours up to three times a week.

Fortnightly rest periods

In any two consecutive weeks (Monday to Sunday) there must be at least one period of 24 hours off duty.

Driving limits for passenger-carrying vehicles 

The rules themselves are similar for passenger-carrying vehicles, but whether the vehicle follows GB or EU rules depends on a few factors, including:

  • The number of passenger seats

  • How far you’re driving (the distance of your route)

  • If you’re driving to or from another country

  • If you’re driving on a regular (specified route) or a non-regular service.

Check the tables below to see which rules apply to you. The DVSA has additional resources on this subject to clarify it here.

Public service vehicles (PSV)

A public service vehicle is a vehicle that’s used to carry passengers for hire or payment.

Type of operation

8 or fewer passenger seats

9 to 12 passenger seats

13 to 16 passenger seats

17 or more passenger seats

Regular service on route not exceeding 50 mph

GB domestic rules

GB domestic rules

GB domestic rules

GB domestic rules

National or international regular service on route exceeding 50km

The local rules of the countries you drive in (GB domestic rules in the UK)

EU/AETR rules

EU/AETR rules

EU/AETR rules

National or international non-regular service for example commercial excursions, tours or private hire

The local rules of the countries you drive in (GB domestic rules in the UK)

EU/AETR rules

EU/AETR rules

EU/AETR rules

Other passenger-carrying vehicles, including ‘permit operations’, such as school minibuses and vehicles used by community groups have a slightly different set of rules that you can see here.

Are there sanctions for going over driving hour limits?

The regulations may seem difficult to navigate and implement, but the consequences for not complying can be even more unpleasant. The DVSA has the power to enforce breaches of drivers' hours for goods vehicles. Infringing upon the driving hours’ and tachograph rules can result in: 

  • Verbal Warnings: Minor infractions that were committed accidentally or due to inexperience may result in a verbal warning clarifying the infringement and detailing potential consequences should it occur again.

  • Offense Rectification Notice: These may be issued to operators when infringements are not related to safety. It will give operators 21 days to carry out a rectification of the shortcoming

  • Prohibition: Many drivers’ hours and tachograph rules infringements will receive a prohibition, which prohibits driving the vehicle for a specified or unspecified period, until the conditions stated on the matter have been met.

  • Penalties: Infringing drivers often receive a fixed penalty, the amount of which depends on the seriousness of the infringement. Driving is prohibited until a deposit is made.

  • Prosecution: Serious infringements considered to be in the interest of the public will be considered for prosecution, against the driver, operator or other undertakings, or against all.

  • Referral to the Traffic Commissioner: Drivers holding a vocational licence or Operators may be reported to the traffic commissioner to decide whether any administrative action should be taken against their licences.

What penalties are there for infringing on drivers’ hours rules in Great Britain?

As part of the sanctions, there may be fines for infringements on drivers’ hours rules. Those fines for infringements of the drivers’ hours rules in Great Britain include:

  • Failure to observe driving time, break of rest period rules: Fine up to £2,500 (level 4)

  • Failure to make or keep records under the GB domestic rules: Fine up to £2500 (level 4)

  • Failure to install a tachograph: Fine up to £5000 (level 5)

  • Failure to use a tachograph: Fine up to £5000 (level 5)

  • Failure to hand over records relating to recording equipment as requested by an enforcement officer: Fine up to £5000 (level 5)

  • Falsifying or attempting to falsify tachograph records: Fine up to £5000 (level 5)

The good news is compliance with these drivers’ hours rules and working time directives can be easily achieved through your tachograph solution so you can avoid these violations altogether.

How can I ensure compliance with on-duty and driving limits?

While tachographs are required in vehicles over 3.5 tonnes, you still need to collect and analyse your driver and vehicle data to identify any infringements. There are many tachograph solutions out there to help remotely download or analyse that data, but not every tachograph compliance product is created equal. Beyond just simply downloading data, it’s important that your tachograph solution analyses and clearly highlights violations and unassigned hours so you can take action to avoid penalties. Ideally, it will provide real-time updates on remaining drive time, so that you can avoid infringements before they occur.  

Samsara’s complete tachograph solution comes with all of the tools you need to simplify compliance. Our remote downloading feature simply and easily collects driver and vehicle data. Through our Infringement Reports, you’ll get complete visibility into violations so you can take quick corrective action and easily print letters. You can easily track trends and monitor compliance performance over time, making it simple to prepare for audits and inspections. With live updates on remaining drive time, you can also avoid infringements all together, and dispatch drivers more effectively to maximise runs. 

The Samsara Tachograph Solution is just one part of our complete fleet management platform that ensures safety, efficiency, compliance across your whole operation. Schedule a demo or free trial today to see how Samsara can help you ensure compliance and streamline your fleet.