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What Is A (Digital) Tachograph?

Published 28 Apr 2021

What Is A (Digital) Tachograph?

What Is A (Digital) Tachograph?

A tachograph is a device fitted to a heavy vehicle that automatically records its speed, distance and driving time, together with the driver’s activity selected from a choice of modes. The drive mode is activated automatically when the vehicle is in motion, and modern tachograph heads usually default to the other work mode upon coming to rest. The rest and availability modes can be manually selected by the driver whilst stationary.

The purpose of the tachograph is to prevent driver’s fatigue and to guarantee fair competition and road safety. They’re used to make sure drivers and employers follow the rules on drivers’ hours.


When You Need A Tachograph?

It is mandatory to install a tachograph in new vehicles having a mass of more than 3,5 tonnes when they are intended for the transport of goods, or new vehicles carrying more than 9 persons including the driver, when they are intended for the transport of passengers.

You must use a tachograph if the vehicle you’re driving comes under EU or AETR rules. Therefore find out if EU or AETR rules apply to the passenger carrying vehicle or goods vehicle that you’re driving.


How Does A Tachograph Work?

Digital tachographs are able to record and store the activity of the driver and the co-driver in an accurate and secure manner, thanks to the implementation of forefront technology and strong anti-tampering measures. The driver must insert into the tachograph a personal card incorporating a microchip before starting to drive. This personal card stores the driving activity from the driver for at least 28 days and ensures that the information can be easily retrieved by inspection authorities.

A tachograph system comprises a sender unit mounted to the vehicle gearbox, the tachograph head and a recording medium. Tachograph heads are of either analogue or digital types. All relevant vehicles manufactured in the EU since 1 May 2006 must be fitted with digital tachograph heads. The recording medium for analogue heads are wax coated paper discs, and for digital heads there are two recording mediums: internal memory (which can be read out with one of a variety of download devices into a so-called .ddd file) and digital driver cards containing a microchip with flash memory. Digital driver cards store data in a format that can later also be read out as a .ddd file. These files - both those read from internal memory with a download device, and those read from the driver cards - can be imported into tachograph analysis/archival software.


Types Of Tachograph

There are two types of tachograph - analogue and digital. All commercial vehicles first registered on or after 1 May 2006 must be fitted with digital tachographs. Information from digital tachographs is saved on smart cards so it can be checked later.

Since 15 June 2019 a new generation of tachographs, so called smart tachographs, are being installed in newly registered trucks and buses. The smart tachograph features the same functionalities as previous generations of the digital tachograph, complemented with additional communication tools, such as GNSS positioning and transmission of real-time information to enforcement authorities by means of a short-range communication channel. It also incorporates enhanced anti-tampering measures such as encryption keys generated with the most advanced algorithms.


Regulations Vary From Country To Country

For reasons of public safety, many jurisdictions have limits on the working hours of drivers of certain vehicles, such as buses and trucks. A tachograph can be used to monitor this and ensure that appropriate breaks are taken. Drivers and their employers are legally required to accurately record their activities, retain the records (files from internal memory and from driver cards must both be retained) and produce them on demand to transport authorities who are in charge of enforcing regulations governing drivers’ hours.

Regulation (EU) N° 165/2014 on recording equipment in road transport sets out the basic constructive characteristics of the tachograph and lays down the main elements of the system that must be put in place and maintained in order to implement the tachograph across the EU.

They are also used in the maritime world, for example through the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine.


Remote Tacho Download

Remote tacho download is an option to download tachograph information without the need to physically go to the vehicle. This saves time and money and the risk of getting fined.

Future Improvements For Tachographs

Following the recent amendment to Regulation (EU) No 165/2014, a new version of the smart tachograph (smart tachograph version 2) will be deployed in 2023. Version 2 will incorporate new functionalities for the purpose of enforcement of the EU legislation on cabotage and posting of workers, such as the recording of border crossings or the detection of the position of the vehicle when a load/unload operation is being carried out. Additional information related to the activity of the driver shall be transmitted to enforcement authorities through the short-range communication channel.

Smart tachograph version 2 will enhance the anti-tampering resistance of the current tachograph by means of new features, such as its capacity to authenticate satellite signals or the fitting of an internal sensor which is independent from the external motion sensor.

The smart tachograph version 2 will be fitted in newly registered vehicles as of August 2023 and in already registered vehicles engaged in international road transport operations by August 2025. In addition, as of 1 July 2026, vehicles above 2,4 tons will be obliged to feature a tachograph.