Card tricks

Card tricks Card tricks
Operators with older vehicles fitted with analogue tachographs that use paper charts may have permitted themselves a wry smile or two when they heard about the problems besetting driver cards that have to be inserted into digital tachographs. Large numbers of these cards have been at risk of malfunctioning causing both drivers and operators major headaches.

Tachograph analysis, products and driver training specialist Novadata has received reports from businesses whose drivers have inserted cards only to be told by the onboard unit that the card has expired (when it has not) or that it is not valid (when it is). Error codes have been appearing too.

“In some cases the unit has apparently suddenly spat the card out while the driver has been driving,” says Tachodisc managing director, Karen Crispe. In others, the unit has refused to disgorge the card when asked to do so.

“I was surprised by the extent of the problem,” she adds. “My initial impression was that it wasn’t a major issue and that we’d be unlikely to see any evidence of it.”

That did not prove to be the case.
Novadata Tachmaster tachodisc TRutac

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) admits that there is a problem, but says that the only cards affected are those issued between 24 March 2007 and 31 August 2008.

Replacement cards are being sent out automatically along with a letter explaining what should be done with the old card. All data should be downloaded from it – assuming of course that the defect allows this to be done – before it is returned to the agency.

The Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) has agreed with the DVLA to allow drivers with faulty and thus unusable cards longer than the usual 15 days grace period before they have to be replaced, but they must maintain a manual record of their activities during that time.

Vehicle unit printouts must be made at the start and finish of each day and drivers must record their personal details on them including their name and their driver card/licence number. The printout must be signed, stresses Novadata.

The relevant authorities in other EU member states have received notification of the UK card glitch although it is a moot point as to whether the necessary information has filtered down to officials carrying out roadside checks on the other side of the Channel.

“VOSA and the DVLA seem to have got to grips with the card problem and a lot of cards have now been replaced, but it’s worth noting that it is something that has affected company cards too,” says Jemma James, operations and marketing director at tachograph hardware, software, analysis and consultancy specialist TruTac.

That can cause major headaches when it comes to, for example, the remote downloading of data: something that is proving increasingly popular.

Over the past two years there has been a massive swing in favour of remote data downloading says Chris Cuffe, sales and marketing manager at Tachosys. “It saves an enormous amount of time when compared with manual downloading; as much as two days per vehicle per year,” he contends.

The latest generation of digital tachographs – Continental VDO’s DTCO 1381 Rel.1.3a is a prime example – allows onboard unit data to be downloaded remotely by GPRS assuming that the company digital card is present in a reader attached to a computer in the operator’s office. Retrofit download devices are available from a number of suppliers including Tachodisc.

Aside from the need to comply with the Drivers Hours rules, proper recording of hours and breaks is becoming especially vital given the attitude of insurers says James.

One of the firm’s clients who had a vehicle involved in a road traffic accident asked TruTac to get involved when it was told by its insurers that they would not pay out because the driver had exceeded his permitted hours.

“As it turned out he hadn’t, and still had another five minutes driving time left before he had to take a break when the collision occurred,” says James.

The reason why it looked as though the Hours rules had been broken was that the driver’s card was still in the onboard unit when the police moved the damaged vehicle. The driver had failed to take it out because he had been injured in the smash and been taken to hospital.

Fortunately TruTac was able to show this was the case and the insurer paid up. Had the driver himself committed the alleged offence, however, then payment may have been withheld, believes James.

The Drivers Hours rules are of course not always easy to follow, especially when they are changed and then changed back again.

Take the 12-day rule for example, which allows coach drivers on cross-border tour work to work for 12 consecutive days without taking their mandatory weekly rest. Scrapped in 2007, it was re-introduced in 2010 after intensive lobbying by operators and their representative organisations, but anybody who wishes to take advantage of it must comply with a number of legislative requirements.

A weekly rest period of at least 45 hours must be taken immediately before the tour commences and two regular weekly rest periods must be taken immediately afterwards. The usual daily rests and breaks must be taken during the trip.

Working out when such rests and breaks must be taken can be problematic, but Stoneridge’s SE5000 Exakt digital tachograph should be able to help. It employs Stoneridge’s Duo technology which makes it easy for drivers to see on the onboard unit’s display how much longer they can drive and how much rest they must then take.

If the unit’s positioning makes the display difficult to scutinise then they can look at the information on a mobile phone screen instead if Duo Mobile is used. It is a free app that synchronises with the tachograph: Tachosys has come up with a similar package.

Another free app from Stoneridge called Tacho Center allows tachograph data to be downloaded wirelessly.

In a further development, Stoneridge has introduced Exakt ALLIANCE.

With a £95 membership fee, it is a club that allows members to purchase Exakt and other Stoneridge items at preferential prices at any Stoneridge workshop throughout the UK. Any operator of any size can join.

With an eye to new rules coming into force in October, SE5000 Exakt is second-source-of-motion ready. In other words, it can comply with a requirement which states that tachographs must take information from two sources of motion on a vehicle in order to confound anybody planning to bend the Drivers Hours rules by, for example, placing a magnet on the gearbox to interfere with the sender unit: a serious offence.

Changes in the pipeline for 2017/18 proposed by the European Commission (EC) will have a much bigger impact on digital tachograph design if implemented.

“They will allow enforcement officials standing at the roadside to interrogate a tachograph remotely to assess whether a vehicle is worth stopping or not, but EU legislation will not compel government agencies to invest in the necessary technology,” says Crispe. It seems unlikely that some countries will have the cash to spare given the major financial problems that abound.

The data picked up by a roadside scan would probably be limited – revealing, for example, that a driver’s card has not been inserted – and by law could not be stored for more than a few hours or sent to other government agencies. As a consequence it would not be available as prosecution evidence.

Both the driver’s card and vehicle unit’s security encryption will be extended under the proposals. A GPS module will be added to the tachograph to record the start and end point of a journey, but a document produced by Tachodisc in association with a leading weekly magazine for hauliers points out that driver privacy issues could be raised if the module automatically records intermediate and rest stops too. It goes on to add that it is likely that longitude and latitude rather than place names or postcodes will be recorded, which will be difficult to interpret.

A proposal that would prevent  an operator’s own workshop from calibrating their vehicle units has been scrapped, says Tachodisc, but adds that workshops that carry out such work are likely to face closer scrutiny by the authorities in future.

One change likely to be welcomed by bus operators is a suggestion that the 50km break-point beyond which drivers on regular services on long routes must use a tachograph could be extended to 100km. All services below that length would be covered by the UK domestic Drivers Hours rules, which do not require a tachograph to be used.

A proposal to merge the driver’s licence and card – no mention as yet of including the driver’s Certificate of Professional Competence Driver Qualification Card too – is on the face of it a sensible idea and should cut costs. It should also make drivers less inclined to break the rules, suggests Crispe.

“While you might be willing to lend another driver your digital card – even though you know you shouldn’t – you are probably less likely to do so if it’s your licence as well,” she comments

It throws up a potential legal problem however and one that may lead to protests. “While you have to carry your digital card with you, in the UK you are not legally required to carry your driving licence,” Crispe points out.

A combined card will mean however that you are in effect being compelled to do so: a development likely to lead to a lot of expensive legal wrangling unless UK legislation is changed.

“The suggestion that the EC is merging these documents as part of a backdoor shift to ID cards – forcing workers to carry increasing amounts of ID in one document – has been raised,” says the Tachodisc document: not something that will be well-received by UK legislators.