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Passenger and Goods Vehicles (Tachographs) (Amendment etc.) Regulations 2019

Volume 799: debated on Thursday 26 September 2019

Motion to Approve

Moved by

My Lords, these regulations, if made, will update the existing domestic enforcement regime to cover some technical issues related to the latest version of tachographs. These new smart tachographs are being installed in some vehicles first registered from 15 June 2019. The regulations ensure that certain rules concerning the new tachographs can be fully enforced. They do not affect vehicles using other types of tachograph.

For the benefit of noble Lords who may not be aware, tachographs monitor and record the amount of time a commercial driver has spent driving. Since the 1980s, they have been used in most heavy goods vehicles, many passenger service vehicles and some light goods vehicles. They allow the enforcement of drivers’ hours rules, which are essential to keeping our roads safe. The new smart tachographs are intended primarily to reduce fraud, allow easier enforcement and reduce administrative burdens on drivers through increased automation.

Breaches of drivers’ hours requirements by drivers using vehicles fitted with the new smart tachographs are already covered by existing enforcement provisions. There are also existing rules relevant to new smart tachographs relating to fraud and falsification related to the tachograph equipment itself. However, some provisions already in place for older tachographs need to be updated so that they apply to breaches of the new smart tachograph requirements that have applied from 15 June this year. This is the purpose of these regulations.

The provisions relate to the installation, compliance and use of the new smart tachograph. They sustain the integrity of the tachograph regime, which allows drivers’ hours to be controlled. Drivers’ hours rules set maximum driving times, minimum break and rest times for most commercial drivers, of both lorries and coaches. In practice, the rules mean that after four and a half hours, a driver must take a 45-minute break. Daily driving time is normally limited to nine hours.

The consequences of driving any vehicle when fatigued can be catastrophic and the potential risks associated with heavy commercial vehicles are particularly severe. The rules are enforced by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency and the police at targeted roadside checks and by visiting operators’ premises.

The principal tool used by enforcement officers is the record generated by the tachograph. This draft instrument ensures that those who breach the new tachograph requirements face an unlimited fine in England and Wales and a fine not exceeding £5,000 in Scotland. Enforcement officials also have the option of issuing a fixed penalty of £300 or a prohibition notice. This either requires a driver to stop using their vehicle immediately or allows the vehicle to be driven to a different location, with further driving prohibited until the issue is resolved.

This draft instrument also includes provisions that would come into effect at the point of a no-deal Brexit, although it is not a no-deal SI in itself. This draft instrument amends further the changes being made to the Transport Act 1968 on EU exit day by the Drivers’ Hours and Tachographs (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. This instrument therefore includes some amendments to those EU exit regulations. This is to ensure that they operate effectively when brought into force, given the changes this draft instrument makes. I emphasise that this draft instrument is not required because of Brexit. Rather, it updates legal provisions relating to the introduction from 15 June 2019 of new smart tachographs.

The policy area of drivers’ hours is devolved with respect to Northern Ireland. The Northern Irish devolved Administration has prepared equivalent amendments to Northern Irish law.

These rules are at the heart of our road safety regime for commercial vehicles and I am sure noble Lords share my desire to ensure that they can be fully enforced as soon as possible. I beg to move.

My Lords, I was privileged to be in the freight industry for some 20 years and tachographs were always around then, so I think they go back beyond the 1980s. I remember admiring the skill of my staff in looking at the wax discs that were the original tachographs. They could tell just by a glance exactly what that driver had been doing during his or her shift. I welcome, however, the fact that technology moves on here.

I have two questions. I realise that, as the Minister said, this is not a Brexit issue. She rightly emphasises the safety aspect of these regulations. Yet on the political side of the withdrawal agreement, the Government are trying to renegotiate standards in all sorts of ways so they are not tied to European ones. Can the Minister guarantee post Brexit that drivers’ hours will not be lengthened or public safety worsened? That is incredibly important.

The Minister will also be aware that the freight industry has changed hugely over the last 10 years, with e-commerce and the way supply chains and distribution channels work. I guess that the area of safety we are most concerned about is fast-driving white vans and the pressure put on many delivery drivers to meet targets of up to 120 deliveries a day. In my day, that would have been almost impossible. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s comments on how the Government will ensure that the white-van delivery sector is as safe as its elder brother and sister—if you like—such as by bringing the vehicle weight limit down to include tachographs in other categories of vehicles.

I once again thank the Minister for explaining the purpose and effect of these regulations. As has been said, the obligations and requirements in relation to the construction, installation, use, testing and control of tachographs are set out in EU Regulation 165/2014, with the enforcement provisions for these obligations and requirements in the Transport Act 1968 and subsequent regulations made under those provisions.

EU Regulation 165/2014 also provided for detailed provisions relating to new smart tachographs, to be set out in further implementing Acts. Those implementing Acts were adopted via Commission implementation regulation, which came into force on 2 March 2016 and provided for the new smart tachograph requirements to apply in respect of relevant vehicles first registered in member states from 15 June 2019.

As the Minister said, in domestic law, where a vehicle is required to be fitted with a tachograph, that tachograph must have been installed, comply with or be used in accordance with EU Regulation 165/2014, with a person using a vehicle in breach of any one of those requirements having committed an offence. As has been said, these provisions need to be updated so that they may also apply to breaches of the new smart tachograph requirements applicable from 15 June 2019.

I want to raise one query, which may show that I have not really understood the regulations particularly well. Why was this SI not approved prior to 15 June 2019? If the new smart tachograph requirements apply in respect of relevant vehicles first registered in member states from 15 June 2019, and we have not had the enforcement mechanism, does that mean that it has not been possible to take action for breaches of these new smart tachograph requirements in respect of such vehicles in this country? Have I understood that correctly? Could vehicles registered in this country have breached those requirements because the powers were not there to do anything about them? Is that what this is saying, or have I misunderstood, which I accept is quite possible? I would be grateful if the Minister could clear that one up. Obviously, it would be fairly significant if we had been unable to take action in respect of certain vehicles because this SI was not brought forward in time. As I said, I may have misunderstood the documentation that we received.

I also have a couple of other points. In the event of these arrangements coming in, what additional resources, if any, will be provided by the Government to ensure that the new regulations in relation to smart tachographs are actually followed? Will there be a need for additional resources? After Brexit, if the EU expands the types of vehicle that must be fitted with tachographs, will the Government follow suit and adopt those changes to EU regulations?

On my final point, and once again, my information may prove wide of the mark, I understand that the new smart tachographs can communicate remotely with roadside enforcement officers. Has the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency developed the technology required to remotely monitor data gathered by smart tachographs? I ask that because there are suggestions—I choose that word specifically—that the DVSA has not developed this technology. If that is the case, what is the point of smart tachographs if we do not have the technology to collect the data they create?

I thank both noble Lords for their contributions today. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, mentioned wax cylinders, which was very interesting; I did not know that they were used in that way. Obviously, tachographs nowadays are incredibly smart and can link into the transport system. They can tell people where vehicles are at any time.

They will make a difference to road safety in our system. The noble Lord also raised the question of standards and whether the Government intend to change the standards for drivers’ hours. We have no intention of changing those standards; we have some of the safest roads in the world and we wish to keep it that way. We believe that we are in a good position at the moment. I take his point about the new type of delivery vehicles that we see, often delivering from companies such as Amazon. There has been an explosive increase in those. We have no plans to introduce tachographs into those vehicles at the current time, because they would significantly increase the weight range of the vehicles covered. However, we are of course working with the employers to do what we can to make sure that those drivers not only have good working conditions but are encouraged to keep the roads safe.

I turn to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, about the timing and powers and whether we have been able to enforce them. This is quite an interesting situation, in that when the European Union introduced this requirement, there was some suggestion that the date might be delayed, as a number of other EU member states and trade associations wanted a delay. They chose not to delay it in the end, but one issue that has now arisen is that there is a supply shortage of these new smart tachographs. This has happened all across the European Union and, therefore, the reality is that not a huge number of these things have been able to be installed because they have not been available. Apparently, there is just one company that makes one component for these tachographs.

What the UK has done is to say that new vehicles that are first registered from 15 June may use the old tachographs. An old tachograph can be put into the vehicle and then, when the new ones are available, they will go in. This has had the effect that the majority of newly registered vehicles still have the traditional—though I assume they are not that traditional—tachographs and these will be switched out when the new ones become available.

I accept that there has been a delay in the timing, which has been caused by the uncertainty over the start date of 15 June and the legal background and context of the SI taking some time to sort out. I reassure the noble Lord that the main reason for these tachographs is drivers’ hours, which are covered under other regulations. The deficiency of powers in this instrument relates simply to not having the new tachographs properly fitted, sealed and calibrated—they have to be calibrated every two years—and using print-out paper that is not approved. Those are the powers that we have not had but will have when this SI has been made. However, we are able to enforce the more significant power on the drivers’ hours as it is.

Is the Minister saying that we could have vehicles that have been first registered since 15 June that only have or choose to operate the new smart tachograph requirements and that, until now, we have not had any statutory means of enforcing the regulations because this SI had not yet been put before Parliament? I appreciate that the noble Baroness has said that the numbers will be very small, but am I right in saying that there could be vehicles running around with the new smart tachographs for which powers do not exist to enforce the requirements, because this has been delayed?

There are certain powers that the Government hope to have, after this SI has been made, which we will then be able to use but the reality is that we are talking about very few tachographs. The second issue is that if the DVSA picks up a contravention, it is unlikely to be much broader in terms of the drivers’ hours. There will be reasons for that. The contraventions that the new powers give us are relatively minor, compared to the really significant ones on drivers’ hours contraventions. I will admit to the noble Lord that there are deficiencies in powers, which is what we are trying to rectify today. However, we already have the most significant powers anyway, and it is unlikely that any particular vehicle would be doing just one of these things. It would probably be doing a number of them, otherwise why would they bother not to have it fitted properly unless they were trying to do something untoward?

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, mentioned resources. In our opinion, it is likely that no additional resources will be needed on the introduction of these new powers as they will be included in the checks which the DVSA already carries out. It does hundreds of thousands of checks a year; I think it is 200,000. It is incredibly busy in looking at HGVs and making sure that everything is appropriate. The noble Lord also mentioned the technology to monitor the data from the new smart tachographs. Unfortunately, I do not have that information but I will write to him shortly after this debate and give him what information I am able to.

Motion agreed.