Drivers’ hours rules must prioritise safety

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Drivers’ hours rules must prioritise safety

The EU drivers’ hours rules are established as a mainstay of the commercial vehicle industry, limiting the amount of time drivers of large goods vehicles and passenger-carrying vehicles can drive in any given day.

With an estimated 20% of collisions in the UK* attributed to fatigue, FTA welcomed the introduction of these rules and applauded their aim, to make UK’s roads safer. But it is important to note that while their application provides a useful benchmark, a driver cannot automatically be deemed ‘safe’ if compliant with the rules – if a driver is fatigued, they should not drive under any circumstances.

Despite many calls for the rules to be revised – some operators wish to see the maximum driving period extended, others to see rest times increased – FTA members have determined that, in their current form, the EU drivers hours’ rules strike a pragmatic balance between safer operations and effective supply chains.

Many drivers and operators wish to avoid disruption where possible – a revision of the rules would lead to a series of knock-on impacts, including changes to analysis systems, scheduling, and training of drivers, transport managers and enforcement staff. It can take many years for any new development to be widely known to the industry – changes to existing rules are often slow to be communicated.

For example, FTA has met many drivers who were unaware rest times changed several years ago. This begs the question: is it right to penalise individuals because they were unaware of a change in the rules, despite being a safe and competent driver?

Furthermore, EU legislation cannot be tinkered with without inviting a complete review of the laws; this would open the process up to amendments and new proposals from all parties, who may wish to introduce unwelcome changes. FTA’s position for the last decade has been one of maintaining the status quo – its members have made it clear they do not want to see a revision in the rules.

But change is coming; the EU is now considering a series of amendments to the EU drivers’ hours rules. These proposals are part of the EU’s latest mobility package proposals, which also include measures on operator licensing, minimum wage rules and tachograph retrofit.

There are several proposals currently on the negotiating table. A ruling in 2017 by the ECJ banned drivers taking their full weekly rest in the cab of a vehicle, but it now appears European bodies are moving to clarify, and potentially change, this law.

Other proposals include an amendment to the way reduced weekly rest is compensated. A variety of models have been suggested, such as employing a four-week period for the compensation.

The scope of the rules may also be extended to include vehicles down to 2.4 tonnes – so bringing them into tachograph rules. Negotiations range from applying this to all vehicles, to only hire and reward operations, to only vehicles crossing international borders, and there are those who oppose the move altogether.

And there is even a proposal to bring back the three 15-minute breaks rule. The EU’s mobility package did not progress sufficiently before the summer recess to now have time to come into force before Brexit on 29 March 2019, but it remains to be seen what measures will need to be adopted in any agreement between the UK and the EU.

FTA will be monitoring the situation carefully to ensure that drivers’ best interests remain at the heart of the legislation. *according to the government’s THINK! Campaign.

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