Since the introduction of the compulsory use of tachographs in the United Kingdom on 1 January 1982 (adoption of EC Regulation 1463/70) there has long been confusion, dispute and errors in the use, misunderstanding and, in some cases, blatant deliberate misuse of the drivers’ work mode on the records produced.

There should never have been any dispute over the fact that the drivers’ work mode should be used accurately.

The law has never allowed the use of the work mode to be optional. Indeed Article 15(3) of EC Regulation 3821/85 states that “drivers SHALL OPERATE the switch mechanisms enabling the different periods of time worked to be recorded separately and distinctly and therefore, they must show Drive, Other Work, Periods of Availability and Rest/Break periods”.


The use of modes has been poor since the inception of tachographs and was further complicated in the 1990s with the introduction of the “automatic” tachograph. However, what was not clear to all drivers was that the word “automatic” related only to the fact that the tachograph could recognise if the vehicle was in motion, so when recognising the movement, the tachograph would automatically switch from the driver’s selected stationary mode to “Drive”.

However, when stopping, the tachograph would simply revert back to the previously selected mode. Therefore, if a driver had previously selected “Break” at a service area or roadside café, but then stopped to undertake a delivery or to collect passengers and load their luggage, then the driver would still have to remember to change the work mode to “Other Work”.

The complication was further extended with the introduction of digital tachographs to all new vehicles registered after 1 May 2006.

Within S. III of EC Regulation 3821/85, “CONSTRUCTION AND FUNCTIONAL REQUIREMENTS FOR RECORDING EQUIPMENT” it states in paragraph 4 “When the vehicle stops, WORK shall be selected automatically for the driver.”

Therefore, drivers swapping between analogue and digital tachographs face different issues in the manner in which they record, but then, to compound issues even further, the digital tachograph can also be adjusted to automatically change the work mode when the ignition is switched off; in most cases, if amended, this will change the driver’s work mode automatically to “Break”.

This, in itself, can cause problems. Take, for example, a driver in a digital tachograph vehicle, who stops driving on a cold day, but has to wait to unload or for the passengers to arrive and therefore decides to take a break and a brew from his flask. The tachograph automatically switches to “Other Work” in accordance with the law; however, the driver changes that selection manually to “Break” as he is having a brew, but leaves the engine running to stay warm. However, just before getting out of the vehicle the driver selects “Other Work”, as he (an HGV driver) will be involved in the unloading of cargo or, for PCV drivers, the loading of luggage, and he then switches the ignition off.

However, at that time, by switching the ignition off, the tachograph head switches the work mode from “Other Work” back to “Break” and the driver has now selected the wrong mode.

The key aspect of this section is that drivers must familiarise themselves with the different model(s) of tachograph head which they use through the course of the working day. This is not an option, but the law with which they must comply, and failing to operate the work mode correctly is an offence.

Dispute, errors in use, and misunderstanding

Since 11 April 2007, when EC Regulation 561/2006 came into force, this regulation together with Article 4, “the definitions”, offered a clearer definition for three of the four work modes.

Three of the work modes are defined within EC Regulation 561/2006, while “Periods of Availability” (PoA) is defined within Directive 2002/15/EC.

In summary, the four modes are as follows.

Driving Time

The steering wheel symbol means the duration of driving activity recorded. Therefore, regardless of the model of tachograph, whether this be analogue, digital generation 1 or digital generation 2, the recorded driving time is to be interpreted as the actual driving time. This “driving time” may well vary between the different types of tachograph (a matter which may usefully be considered further in a separate feature article later this year).


The bed symbol means any period during which a driver may not carry out any driving or any other work and which is used exclusively for recuperation, while “Rest” means any an uninterrupted period during which a driver may freely dispose of his or her time.

Other Work

The crossed hammers symbol is used for:

  • loading and unloading
  • assisting passengers boarding and disembarking from the vehicle
  • cleaning and technical maintenance
  • all other work intended to ensure the safety of the vehicle (this means vehicle checks must be recorded), its cargo and passengers or to fulfil the legal or regulatory obligations directly linked to the specific transport operation underway, including monitoring of loading and unloading, and administrative formalities with police, customs, immigration officers, etc
  • driving a vehicle for the purpose of the driver’s work which is not fitted with a tachograph (i.e. a positioning journey).

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Gordon Humphreys of Foster Tachographs Limited, Preston, takes a look at the problems of drivers keeping accurate tachograph records and the operation of the mode switch mechanisms during the course of a working day.

Periods of Availability

The square symbol with the line through it is for travelling as a passenger in a vehicle (this may be a car, van or other tachograph vehicles), or waiting time where the period of wait is known — please refer to a previous article, A guide to tachograph systems compliance.

Periods of Availability explained

This causes the UK driver a major problem. Although there is clearly a different definition for “Breaks” and “PoA” throughout mainland Europe, they are treated the same, i.e. a break and PoA are both effectively a break period. Hence on digital tachographs, a PoA will be interpreted as a break by the internal software.

However, within the UK, a PoA is not interpreted as a break, except when the driver is undertaking a multi-manned operation (i.e. where there are at least two drivers in the vehicle to undertake the driving, in which case, UK Enforcement bodies will interpret the first 45 minutes of PoA as a “driving break”).

Therefore, the UK driver must be aware of this and, if using PoA on a digital tachograph, be aware that the interpretation in the software may not be accurate in the UK.

Furthermore, drivers must properly record “placement journeys”, i.e. those journeys to either collect a vehicle or to return from a vehicle which is not at the usual operating centre. Even if these journeys are made in a private car and even from the driver’s home they must be recorded.

For example, a driver ends at a service station where the vehicle is met by another employee to take over the vehicle and the first driver is given a van to drive home and return to work the next morning. The journey home from the services is recordable and is part of the driver’s working day. If it is not recorded, at best it is a failure to keep and make a proper record. If it hides a breach of a driver’s hours’ offence, then it may also be deemed to be false.

A further area where drivers often record the wrong mode of break is when undertaking other work. This may be done to hide a breach of the 4½ hours driving regulation, enabling the driver to finish work earlier. This is common within a number of operations and is employed on a “job and finish” basis.

Summing up

Employers should be reviewing records to ensure that:

  • drivers are recording vehicle checks and using the correct mode
  • drivers are ensuring that the tachograph record produced covers the full extent of the driver’s working day
  • drivers are selecting the correct mode for the activity that they are undertaking
  • those reviewing the records have sufficient knowledge to be able to interpret and compare the recordings accurately and appropriately.

Failure to fulfil these aspects may leave operators open to investigation and subsequent action. Drivers must, therefore, understand and have the knowledge to make the recordings for the full working day, including manual entries on the digital tachographs, accurately as part of their responsibility as a professional driver.

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