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Ignorance could see fleets fall foul of towing laws

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Fleet operators are being warned to ensure they are familiar with the laws around towing behind commercial vehicles and fitting tachographs.

The Freight Transport Association (FTA) says there is much misinformation about tachographs and towing, which is potentially putting fleets at risk if they tow a trailer that carries goods in connection with their business.

Eamonn Brennan, van information manager at the FTA, said: “Essentially, the key weight threshold for tachograph rules to apply is exceeding 3,500kg gross vehicle weight for the base vehicle or a combination weight exceeding 3,500kg gross train weight when towing a trailer.

“If you want to tow a trailer you must take the gross vehicle weight of the base vehicle and add the maximum authorised mass of the trailer together and if this sum is greater than 3,500kg – the gross train weight – you will be subject to the tachograph rules.”

Exemptions from tachograph rules

However, there are exemptions from tachograph rules that may apply to fleets such as the ‘tools of the trade’ exemption.

“Builders and landscapers, for example, could take advantage of this exemption, but only if they fulfil the specific criteria,” said Brennan.

The combination weight of vehicle and trailer must not exceed 7,500kg; materials, equipment or machinery being carried must be for the driver’s use in the course of his/her work; vehicles must be only used within a 50km (31 miles) radius of the base of the undertaking; and driving the vehicle does not constitute the driver’s main activity.

“There is no requirement for tachographs to be fitted to cars,” added Brennan. “But most vans, pick-ups, 4x4s and dual-purpose vehicles have the ability to have tachographs fitted if the rules apply.”

He suggests that before fleets decide that an exemption from tachograph rules apply, they should always seek professional advice to discuss their options.

Digital tachographs introduced

From May 2006, it was a mandatory requirement for vehicle manufacturers to fit digital tachograph units rather than the old style analogue tachographs that used circular wax coated paper charts.

However, not all manufacturers could fit the new style digital tachograph units due to technical difficulties, so towing trailers was not possible if the operator was subject to tachograph rules.

Now most manufacturers have the ability to supply and fit digital tachographs with the aid of adapters that are compliant with the technical requirements.

Brennan explained: “If the transport operation is subject to the tachograph rules, the driver inserts their personal driver’s digital tachograph card.

“Built into the card is a microchip that records all the activity of the driver such as driving, breaks and other work. This data will need to be periodically downloaded and analysed.”

The police or a Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) enforcement officer has the power to download the card at the roadside to ensure the rules are being followed.

A driver who has been issued with a card and is unable to produce it will face a fine.

When you are not towing a trailer and the tachograph is not required, the unit can be set to ‘out of scope’ mode by using the menu keys. 

“Remember that the base vehicle must be 3,500kg gross vehicle weight or less before the driver sets the unit to this mode,” said Brennan.

Apart from tachograph rules when towing, fleets also need to be aware of the driver licence category required, the possibility of operator licence legislation applying if the goods carried are transported on a ‘hire and reward’ basis. Road speed limits are lower when towing.

Brennan concluded: “Check your own vehicle operations and if in doubt seek professional advice on whether the tachographs rules apply to you as the penalties for non-compliance can cost you more in the long run.”

Still unsure if you need a tachograph?

Try our Tachograph Compliance Tool

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  • derrick medlow - 08/05/2014 12:44

    relived , a very useful piece of information . thankyou.

  • Frustrated van driver - 03/09/2014 14:30

    Still as clear as mud. I am looking for a court ruling regarding weights. My employer says actual weight, or is it maximum possible weight. Somebody please help, been in discussion with my boss for 10 years.

    • phil - 06/09/2014 08:59

      @Frustrated van driver - Gross weight or mpw as you call it.

  • Nigel Chapman - 08/12/2014 19:48

    God this is another load of red tape. I'm a one man outfit that offers a towing service mainly cars and boats. I use a fourtrak and trailer rated at 3500kg. Does this mean I need a tacho.

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