Wednesday 12 May 2021

Drivers’ hours changes now in force

Changes to EU drivers’ hours law are now in operation, and will continue to apply in the UK even when the Brexit process is complete.

The reforms will have the most impact on long-distance international journeys. Among their effects will be a restriction of the ability of eastern European hauliers to offer low-cost services in western Europe by keeping their trucks and drivers there for long periods of time, thereby undercutting higher-cost domestic operators, who often view the practice as unfair.

The UK government’s advice on drivers’ hours rules has now been amended to reflect the changes. Updated guidance for goods vehicles operators is here.

Among the changes, drivers are now required to return home every four weeks, and the law also clarifies that normal length weekend rests cannot be taken in the vehicle’s cab: suitable hotel accommodation must instead be provided at the employer’s expense.

On the flip side, there is a little more flexibility in scheduling rest periods on international journeys, and all drivers can now extend time at the wheel if a return to base for weekly rest has been subject to unpredictable delay.

Most significantly, drivers can no longer take a full regular weekly rest of 45 hours or more in the vehicle. If not at the company premises or the driver’s residence, then these breaks must be taken in what is described as ‘suitable gender-friendly accommodation with adequate sleeping and sanitary facilities.’

The legislation clearly states that all costs associated with being away from home must be borne by the employer.

This reform clears up previous ambiguity in the legislation, and sets into stone a rule that was already enforced in some EU member states preventing drivers from taking a full weekly rest in their cabs.

The legislation also effectively caps the amount of time that drivers can work away from home. Drivers weekended outside their home state can take two consecutive weekly rest periods of 24 hours, but in any four-week period, four weekly rests must be taken, at least two of which must be regular weekly rest periods.

When two consecutive reduced weekly rests have been taken, the next weekly rest must be preceded by a rest period to compensate for the two reduced weekly rests.

Operators are required to organise drivers’ work so that they do not spend excessive amounts of time away from home, and that they can benefit from the long rest periods taken in compensation for reduced weekly rests.

In each four-week period the driver should be enabled to return to a depot in the haulier’s member state, or to his/her own home. Drivers are free to choose to spend their rest period elsewhere, and the Road Haulage Association (RHA) advises its members to document the driver’s request to do this.

The RHA also advises operators to keep copies of tachograph records, duty rosters and other documentation to provide proof that drivers have returned to home for their weekend rests.

In a forthcoming reform, drivers will be required to retain tachograph records for 56 days, rather than the current 28 days. This change will not come into force until 31 December, 2024, and will make little practical difference, as by then the old-style paper-chart tachograph will be a rare thing indeed.

Drivers delayed from returning home or to base for their weekly rest by exceptional circumstances can either extend their daily and weekly driving time by up to an hour to enable them to reach their destination, or extend their daily and weekly driving time by up to two hours, providing an additional break of 30 minutes is taken immediately prior to the extended driving.

In these circumstances, the driver must make a manual record on the tachograph chart or printout explaining the reasons why driving was extended, and compensate for the additional driving in any rest period within three weeks.

The current arrangement where driving can be extended to enable a suitable stopping place to be reached is retained; the reformed arrangement allows the driver a better chance of reaching his home or base and can only be used in those circumstances.

The requirement to have tachographs fitted is to be extended to include goods vehicles of 2.5 – 3.5 gvw on international hire and reward work from July 2026.

Dr Nigel Kirkwood, managing director of Tachograph Analysis Consultants Ltd, welcomed the changes, commenting: “The new regulation sees a ‘tidying’ of the rules, rather than a wholesale change to drivers’ hours.

“It provides greater clarity on, and extends, existing rules where there had previously been differing interpretations.

“There is an enhancement of rest rules generally and encouragement for improved provision of service areas – reducing the social impact on drivers.

“Wider use of tachographs and quicker implementation of smart tachographs offers the potential to reduce administrative burden on both drivers and operators alike.”

He added: “Improved recording of enforcement details makes flouting the rules ever more difficult, with the potential of a more level playing field for all.”

Advocates of the reforms on the grounds of fairness for western European hauliers may feel vindicated by recent protests from eastern European hauliers’ representatives and governments, distressed by what Hungarian justice minister Judit Vargas referred to as MEPs giving “protectionism the go-ahead” in passing the legislation.

Vargas remarked that some of the new provisions contravene “basic freedoms relating to the single market”.

Romania’s foreign ministry also opposed what it called the “restrictive and disproportionate” reforms, and said it reserved its right to pursue all available options, including potential action in the European court.

Meanwhile, the Union of Romanian Transporters (UNTRR) spoke of “the death knell for international road haulage in western Europe by eastern European companies”.

It said the reform would result in a 10 to 14 per cent loss of revenue for businesses, with a third of operators and 200,000 jobs in the sector at risk over the long term.

Bulgaria’s transport ministry additionally confirmed that it was considering legal measures, denouncing the changes as “unbalanced” and “discriminatory”.

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