Smart Tachographs: Innovation out of necessity

Last updated: 16 December 2020

For drivers and fleet managers across the road transport sector, tachographs are an indispensable toolHaving originally been introduced to vehicles in 1953, digital/smart tachographs were used in over six million trucks and buses over the course of 2019. They are primarily used to log the activities of drivers, namely how far they have travelled, their speeds, and their non-driving activities, such as sleeping or taking a well-earned break.  

While the initial purpose of these devices may seem mundane, they play a much more important role than a surface read of their use would suggest. For fleet managers, tachographs provide the essential data needed to enforce the regulations of their industry, such as mandatory rest time for drivers, guaranteeing drivers’ working conditions and road safety. In short, tachographs are key to the operation of companies in the road transport sector across Europe. 

However, regulation in this sector is changing. In July of this year, the European Parliament passed new legislation aimed at tackling issues around driver working conditions, equal pay in the road transport sector and illegal cabotage operations – cabotage is the carriage of goods by non-resident hauliers on a temporary basis in an EU member state. This new legislation means the tachographs used by European drivers essentially now need to be ‘smarter’ in order to meet the criteria set out by this new regulation. 

However, to understand how tachograph technology needs to be updated in line with these regulation changesit’s important to get under the skin of what a digital/smart tachograph is in the first place. 

So, what is a digital/smart tachograph? 

Legally required in all vehicles in the road transport sector travelling within the EU since 2006, a digital tachograph system, also known as a smart tachograph, is comprised of: a motion sensor and a controlling vehicle unit installed into the vehicle in question; and four types of tachograph cards. These four cards are used for different purposes, such as driver identification and fleet management. Like any other tachograph, the purpose of digital tachographs is to record vehicle speed, driving distance, driving periods as well as events such as speeding and fraud attempts. 

Before 2006, most of the tachographs being used by drivers and fleet managers were analogue. While effective in carrying out their primary purpose, analogue tachographs could be easily tampered withThere have been countless cases of drivers tampering with their vehicle’s tachograph in order to subvert laws and regulations, drivers using magnets and other basic instruments to manipulate the data recorded by the tachograph. Tachographs are tampered with primarily to allow drivers to drive longer than legally permittedundermining industry laws which have strict mandatory resting periods for drivers. These regulations are applied in order to maintain driver safety as well as fair competition in the road transport sector between companies. 

However, with the mandatory introduction of digital tachographs in 2006, the manipulation of tachograph data has become much more difficult, therefore allowing fleet managers to better enforce the regulations set out by the EU. 

In 2019, the digital tachographs were upgraded with enhanced security mechanisms and new use cases such as DSRC communication with the introduction of Smart Tachograph Version 1 in European Vehicles. 

New legislation: A call for change 

However, the conditions in which fleet managers operate significantly changed in 2020. Known as Mobility Package 1, this new piece of legislation passed by the European Parliament in July sets out clear objectives pertaining to issues within the road transport sector: 

  1. Better working conditions for driversThis will include companies having to organise their timetables so that drivers in international freight transport are able to regularly return home. Drivers will also be prevented from taking their 45 hours rest period in the truck cab. 
  2. Fairer competition and fighting illegal practices: Vehicle tachographs will be used to register border-crossings in order to tackle fraud. As well as four day cool off period to prevent systematic cabotage operations, all vehicles over 2.5 tonnes will be subject to EU laws for transport operators, these laws requiring the installation of tachographs.
  3. Clear rules on posting of drivers to ensure equal pay: The new laws will provide a clear legal framework to prevent differing national approaches and ensure fair remuneration for drivers. 

Overall, this package of regulation represents a large overhaul within the road transport sector. The enforcement of these laws across all the areas mentioned under its objectives will be challenging, making tachographs even more invaluable than they were previously. However, in order to keep track of the activities of drivers to ensure the enforcement of this legislation, the current version of smart tachographs will have to be updated with new functionalities. With the need for these new specifications, developers are now well underway in developing the second version of the smart tachograph. 

Smart Tachograph Version 2: The future of tachograph technology 

With the approval of Mobility Package 1, the clock is ticking on the integration of version 2 smart tachographs into vehiclesUnder the new laws, all new registered vehicles will require version 2 smart tachographs by 21st August 2023. Moreover, by the end of 2025, all vehicles engaged in international road transport will have to have version 2 smart tachographs installed, regardless of whether these vehicles are old or newly registered. 

So, how are these new version 2 Smart Tachographs going to help fleet managers with this new regulationIn regard to the objective of fairer competition and fighting illegal practices, unlike the version 1 smart tachographs, the version 2 tachographs will be able to detect when vehicles cross borders between European states, as well as record the position of the vehicle when it is loaded up with its goods. Particularly in the case of the mandatory cooling off period between cabotage operations, this new technology will be crucial, as tachographs will be notified if a driver attempts to carry out another operation before the end of the four-day cooling period. 

Additionally, thanks to the 85% increase in memory capacity, version 2 tachographs cards will be able to store up to 56 days of driver activity – essentially doubling in size the 28 days of storage allowed in version 1 tachographs cards. With this increased memory storage, fleet managers and enforcers will be able to keep a closer eye on the activity of the drivers, ensuring they are taking the required break periods during their time on the road. Amongst other new functionalities, version 2 tachographs will receive software updates to ensure that all active vehicle tachographs are operating on the same, up-to-date software. 

It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention. While the development of version 2 smart tachographs is not an inherently new invention, the necessity brought about by the Mobility Package 1 has forced developers to push the boundaries of possibility and innovate tachograph technology. As the result, fleet managers will be readily equipped with the tools to weather the changes that Mobility Package 1 brings. 

Interested about tachographs cards and looking to find out more? Read more about our recent developments in tachographs cards here!  

You can also watch our recent webinar ‘Smart Tachograph Version 2: Tachograph Cards Update’ featuring Bernardo Martinez – Policy officer in the Directorate General for Mobility and Transport (European Commission). 

Corte, dealing with enforcement of commercial vehicles in collaboration with the European Commission, also invited us to co-animate a virtual presentation to VU manufacturers, Vehicle Manufacturer, Member States and others.  

This is part of our commitment to accompany you in regulation evolvement.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *