Digital tachographs are soon to become smarter

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A shake-up is coming in next year with the addition of remote downloading by compliance authorities

Existing digital tachographs will be superseded by ‘smart’ head units

Changes are coming to digital tachographs in 2019 as part of efforts to simplify and enhance compliance.

EC Regulation 165/2014 mandates that all vehicles that are registered after 15 June 2019, are used on international journeys and require a tachograph have a ‘smart’ head unit. It will deliver new functionality, not least the ability for enforcement agencies to read data remotely.

The international journeys aspect, while part of the Regulation, is something of a red herring. In effect, all new coaches will come with smart tachographs from the above date.

While the new units will otherwise work in the same manner as existing digital tachographs, they will also be equipped with automatic vehicle location recording and utilise improved data security methods.

It doesn’t end there. The Regulation – which despite Brexit, will become part of UK law – requires that by 2033, all relevant vehicles are fitted with smart tachographs. There is currently discussion about bringing that date forward, with a worst case scenario being a 2020 implementation. It is agreed that 2025 is more likely.

On this secondary development, member states will decide whether it applies solely to vehicles making international journeys, or across the board. With the flexibility required of coach fleets, even the former option will potentially represent major upheaval. Many vehicles would need new tachographs and it remains to be seen how the supply chain would cope with that.

Nuts and bolts

The reason for the advent of smart tachographs is road safety. Remote downloading by enforcement authorities will allow them to identify vehicles with potential manipulation or misuse issues.

Various data will be transmitted at the enforcement agency’s request, and that can happen when the vehicle is moving. Both the recording and the control equipment will be authenticated before transmission begins and the Regulation requires that data is secure.

While member states are not mandated to provide their control authorities with the necessary communications equipment immediately, it is understood that DVSA will have the requisite kit from the get-go. It has already carried out trials of the smart tachographs.

Information will be transmitted immediately with the smart head units

Data – which includes power supply interruption, vehicle motion conflict, driving without a card inserted and sensor fault reports – will only be used for the purpose of verifying compliance. It will not be shared with other parties, including the Traffic Commissioners.

Data may only be stored by enforcement authorities for the duration of a roadside check, and it must be deleted no more than three hours after the communication takes place unless it indicates that manipulation or misuse has occurred.

The Regulation is also clear that transmitted data will not lead to automatic fines for the driver or the operator. Rather, it will only be used to allow the enforcement authorities to decide whether or not to stop the vehicle and carry out a formal check.

Simplified enforcement

Smart tachographs will use Bluetooth to transmit data, and while the Regulation initially only applies to vehicles on international journeys, in practice all new coaches registered from 15 June 2019 will have the enhanced head unit functionality.

It’s important to note that DVSA officials will be able to interrogate a smart tachograph regardless of the journey the vehicle is being used on at that time, because its officers will have no knowledge of its origin or destination.

Location recording is part of the Regulation to allow verification of compliance. Vehicle position is recorded at the following points:

  • The daily starting place
  • Every three hours of accumulated driving time
  • The daily ending place.

Location data will be permanently stored in the tachograph head unit, and it is understood that it will also be written to driver cards.

External benefits

Smart tachographs are primarily to improve enforcement, but the Regulation also permits a use of them that will help operators. With a suitable interface that does not interfere with the head unit, data can be transmitted elsewhere.

Primarily that relates to the operator’s compliance systems, reducing the existing administrative burden on them. The external device that harvests information may only have access to personal data after verifiable consent has been received from the driver to whom it relates.

Many issues remain to be addressed in the extension of smart tachographs to all vehicles, and the Confederation of Passenger Transport is currently engaged in that field. Smart tachographs have been welcomed in the freight sector; it’s a case of wait and see whether they get the same reception from coach operators.

routeone comment

The first step of a two-pronged move to smart tachographs will be welcomed by operators that are compliant, although some may have an issue with DVSA being able to interrogate equipment on their vehicles remotely.

What is of much more potential concern is what happens after that. EC Regulation 165/2014 states that all vehicles that are subject to tachographs will require smart head units in the future, although exceptions will no doubt apply.

If the proposed 2033 date is stuck to, it will only affect coaches that by that time are 14 years or more of age. But informed sources say that introduction in 2025, or even 2020, is more likely.

In both of those cases – and should the DfT decide that the requirement will apply to vehicles on all journeys – then there will be a problem. Operators will face significant expense, and the supply chain will see a huge spike in demand.