The European Commission has announced a proposal on drivers' hours across the EU and if adopted would mean tachographs, which record the speed of a vehicle and the distance travelled, would have to be fitted to each vehicle by law.
Currently, tachograph legislation only affects commercial vehicles weighing above 3.5-tonnes and experts warn the financial and operational implications for the fleet industry should the proposal become law would be huge.
Tens of thousands of businesses would be affected and fleet operations would need a massive overhaul. The proposals would restrict the number of hours drivers are permitted to spend behind the wheel, forcing companies to employ additional drivers so they continue to operate within the law.
Such a move, proposed in the amendment to Council Regulation (EEC) 3821/85, could also push up the price of a new van by about £500 – the average price of fitting a tachograph as an option.
Fleet departments would also face extra administrative pressure as someone within the organisation would be charged with monitoring the hours driven by employees and examining the tachograph discs on a regular basis.
Jonathan Fletcher, procurement manager for TNT UK, said: 'From a safety point of view it is necessary and I would agree with the tachograph proposal, but from a cost management viewpoint it is definitely not wanted.
'It will push our costs up, so these will have to be absorbed by the customer. As it will be the same for every van fleet, this will hit businesses and the consumer.'
Stewart Whyte, director of the Association of Car Fleet Operators (ACFO), said: 'There is no merit in this proposal until the Government comes forward with a robust reason showing that there is a problem with vehicles between 2.8 and 3.5 tonnes GVW.
'Many companies do not have a licence to operate tachographs. They would need to get a licence which means expense and experienced employees. It is pure cost with no visible benefit.'
He added: 'Companies would have to employ licence holders, install tachograph reading equipment and then manage the tachograph results. If there is a problem with 2.8 to 3.5-tonne vehicles there must be other ways to tackle it.'
Robin Dickeson, a spokesman for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said such legislation in the UK is unnecessary. He added: 'If this was to happen it would be an unnecessary and costly complication. Digital tachographs are coming in for vehicles over 3.5-tonnes next year and there are huge concerns over that – it's become very complicated.'
A spokesman for Ford said: 'Such a move would not affect us directly as we already offer tachographs as a paid-for option on Transit. They are already mandatory on the Transit 430 EL Jumbo and we recommended fitting a tachograph if a Transit is going to be used for towing a trailer as this is likely to push the vehicle over the 3.5-tonne gross train mass.'