25 August 2009

EC Drivers' Hours Regulations

Even now, over 2 years after the amendments to the EC Drivers' Hours Regulations were implemented some drivers are still unaware of their obligations. Do you blame them though? The regulations are written in typical Sir Humphrey English, containing terms such as 'en bloc' and 'predisposed'.

Sure, there are organisations out there such as the Freight Transport Association and the Confederation of Passenger Transport who produce their own easy-read equivalents, which undoubtedly aid those in the industry get to grips with the technicalities of weekly rest periods etc, but more often than not, those gleaning the most from such publications are those based behind desks at the depot.

I found myself in an argument with a coach driver recently regarding the minimum driving breaks required during a maximum 4:30 driving stint. He believed wrongly that driving from 0740-0800 (0:20) and again from 0830-1240 (4:10) was illegal. The discussion ensured centred on what he believed to be 'continuous driving'. 0:20+4:10 = the maximum 4:30. The driver was of the opinion that he must cease driving at 1210 as this was 4:30 after he first started driving, at 0740, despite having only undertaken 4:10 driving. In which case, why take a 0:30 break at all? Explain as I might in the most basic of terms, he would not have it.

This is the exact opposite of a recently well-publicised case in which Welsh-based Ferris Holidays was fined £51,000 and seventeen of its drivers received fines totalling £8,325 for tachograph offences. A total of 50 tachograph offences were recorded, resulted in criminal charges being brought against the company in October last year.

Quite clearly, those in charge at Ferris have not taken the wrap for their drivers' tacho offences. Whether they were prepared to do so but not allowed to by the investigation authority, VOSA, is not known, though I suspect not. The buck stops firmly with the driver and it was this case to which my driver quoted while 'in dispute' over the driving period mentioned above.

However, this employee was mis-understanding the Regulations through excessive caution on his part; Ferris' drivers were doing so through either ignorance or malpractice, or both. Striking the common ground is not easy. Getting a straightforward 'yes' or 'no' from someone in authority is also increasingly difficult. I was offering a resounding 'yes' to a query, though the
driver wanted a 'no'. In my experience those in positions to offer definitive answers to the minutiae flagged up by drivers are not willing to do so because they themselves struggle to understand the Regulations.

Sure, the basics are known to all (max daily driving, min daily and weekly rest etc), but if a driver takes the time and effort to query some of the finer detail, how many people are able to do him justice by offering on-the-spot responses? I ended up with the bizarre situation of offering a categorical response only for the driver to question me.

One of the most complex situations to describe to drivers is the effect the Working Time Directive (WTD) has on EC Drivers' Hours Regulations. A timetabled driving spell from 1600-2030 (i.e. the maximum 4:30 permitted) is one thing, informing the employee that he may start to load passengers at 1545 is another. "No, it's illegal as I'm working!" That statement is half-right: he/she is working. Another response is "Well I'll do it under duress, but the tachograph mode switch will point to rest!" Now this is an offence under the Regulations. VOSA take a very dim view of drivers working while officially recording a rest period.

Add the WTD's 6 hours continuous working stint rule and, contained within, driving time totalling 4:30 easily fits. Upon arrival at the terminus of the route at 2030 it is perfectly legal to ask your driver to work until 2145, (provided he started 'work' (loading passengers) at 1545) though not drive until a 0:45 break has been taken (so additional driving is possible from 2115).

There are a growing number of operators in my area who I know full-well are losing touch with the Regulations and the way in which they monitor their drivers and their understanding of them. Driver CPC training is therefore an excellent move for smaller operators to consider. From next month you only have four years remaining to ensure all your drivers have passed 35 hours' worth of tuition else their vocational licenses are terminated. Very few operators local to me have chosen to start training their drivers in this way - the recession is overwhelmingly to blame.

An alternative, should a VOSA spot-check prove detrimental, is a £51k fine, a reduction in your O Licenses by 30% and drivers being fined by over £8k. Corporate Manslaughter is also a consideration should a fatal accident occur. I was never in favour of the Driver CPC, but as an employer it demonstrates that you are doing as much as you can to ensure your employees are as well-informed of the law as possible. ('Banshee')

Official EC Drivers' Hours Regulations (30 pages)