Digital Tachograph

EC regulation 561/2006, which was published on 11th April 2006 introduced the mandatory fitment of digital tachographs to new vehicles on 1st May the same year. Further changes affecting the production and retention on records at the roadside for all drivers of vehicles fitted with Analogue and Digital tachographs came into force from this date.

EC regulation 561/2006 is now best known for the revision of EC Drivers Hours Rules which came into force on 11th April 2007. Digital tachographs will replace the fitment of Analogue units, and what follows is a simplistic overview of the Digital Tachograph/vehicle unit (VU).

Digital Tachograph

Digital tachographs work by storing digital data on the driver and vehicle in their own memory and separately on a driver’s smart card. Transport undertakings must periodically download this data from the digital tachograph (known as the Vehicle Unit or VU) every 90 days and from driver cards every 28 days and analyse the information to ensure that the rules have been complied with.

Although it is requested that transport undertakings must download the VU every 90 days, we would strongly recommend undertaking this function at a maximum of 56 days, and preferably every 30 days.

When driving a vehicle fitted with a digital tachograph on a journey that is not in the scope of EU/AETR rules it is recommended, but not legally required, to select ‘out-of-scope’ in the tachograph. Details of how to do this will be contained in the user manual for the model of tachograph fitted to your vehicle(s).

Driver cards and records

It is a legal requirement for a digital tachograph-equipped vehicle driven in the scope of EU rules that the driver must use a driver card.

If the vehicle is used without a card being inserted, the system will not prevent the vehicle from being driven, but the VU will record the fact that the vehicle has been used without a card.

Drivers may only be in possession of one driver’s smart card, and must never use anyone else’s card or allow another driver to use their card.

Drivers must inform the DVLA if their card bears incorrect details, for example after a change of name.

When driving a vehicle that is equipped with a digital tachograph, drivers should:

  • Ensure that the instrument is calibrated by inspecting the calibration plaque or interrogating the instrument
  • Ensure that their driver card is inserted into the correct slot (driver in slot 1, second driver in slot 2 from the moment they take over the vehicle, and that it is ready for use before the vehicle is moved
  • Record the country in which they begin and end their daily work period. This must always be carried out at the time of the start or end of the period, even if the card is not to be withdrawn or inserted (for example if the card is left in overnight)
  • Carry sufficient supplies of type-approved print roll onboard the vehicle so that a printout can be produced at an enforcement officer’s request
  • Ensure that all duties conducted since the driver card was last removed from a tachograph are manually entered onto the card record, using the manual entry facility on the tachograph
  • Ensure that the tachograph is working properly
  • Ensure that through the daily working period the mode button is used correctly to record other work, periods of availability, and rest and breaks
  • Take reasonable steps to protect their card from dirt and damage
  • Use only their own personalised driver card to record driving and other activities they undertake
  • ensure that the card is not removed from the tachograph during the working day unless otherwise authorised. The rules are not specific on who can authorise the removal of the card, but cases, where cards can be removed, include a change of vehicle, or where another driver will be using the vehicle during a break or rest period
  • On multi-manning operations ensure that their driver card is placed in the correct slot (slot 1 when they are acting as driver and slot 2 when co-driver on a double-manned journey) when they take over driving
  • Make their cards available for downloading by their employer
  • Be able to produce at the roadside:
  • Charts and any legally required manual records for the current day and the previous 28 calendar days
  • The driver’s digital smart card if they hold one
  • Sign a hard copy of data when required to do so by a DVSA examiner or a police officer

Mode switch default: Depending on the preferences entered into the digital tachograph at the time of calibration the digital tachograph can default to recording either ‘rest’ for driver 1 and driver 2 or ‘other work’ for driver 1 and ‘availability’ for driver 2 when the vehicle stops. Drivers must use the mode switch correctly to ensure that rest and break periods are recorded correctly.

How to apply for driver cards

You can get application forms and assistance from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) by calling 0300 790 6109. Alternatively, forms are available to order online at Apply for a digital tachograph driver smart card  

In Northern Ireland, application forms are available from Driver and Vehicle Licensing Northern Ireland (DVLNI) (call 028 7034 1589) and test centres of the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA).

Lost, stolen or malfunctioning driver cards

Digital tachograph cards have passed all relevant International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) qualified tests and security certification requirements. They are designed to work reliably and securely for their period of validity but, like all smart cards, can be damaged by abuse. Take care of your driver card – treat it as if it were a credit card and do not subject it to excessive force, bending or extremes of temperature.

Don’t keep your Digital Smart Card next to Debit/Credit cards as you can corrupt the chip causing it to malfunction.

Where it is impossible to use a driver card (e.g. where it has been lost, stolen or damaged or is malfunctioning) a driver may drive without the card for a maximum of 15 calendar days (or longer if this is necessary for the vehicle to be returned to its premises) provided that they produce 2 printouts – one at the start of the day and another at the end so long as there is no change of vehicle.

Where there is a change of vehicle then a printout will need to be taken at the start and end of the use of vehicle 1 and then a printout at the start and end of vehicle 2 and so on.

All printouts must be marked with:

  • The driver’s name or driver card or licence number, so the driver can be identified
  • Any manual entries needed to show periods of other work, availability, and rest or break
  • The driver’s signature

The driver must report the problem to DVLA and apply for a new card within seven calendar days.

UTC – the time set on a digital tachograph

The internal clock of a digital tachograph is set to Universal Time Co-ordinated (UTC). The time displayed on the clock face can be set by the driver either to local time or to UTC. However, all data will be recorded by the VU on the time set by the integral clock, which operates on UTC – this is the same as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

You will need to remember that UTC is one hour behind British Summer Time (BST). So, between 01.00 on the last Sunday in March and 01.00 on the last Sunday in October drivers must account for the difference when manually inputting activity details in the digital tachograph.

For example, if drivers carried out other work for two hours between 06.00 and 08.00 in June before taking over the vehicle, they must enter this as between 05.00 and 07.00 in UTC time.

As mentioned above, it is possible for drivers to set the display time on the VU to local BST, but this will not prevent the VU recording in UTC. Therefore, it is recommended that drivers leave the display time in UTC as a reminder of the difference.

Manual records

A digital tachograph offers the ability for a driver to enter activities carried out by them away from their vehicle. This is by means of the manual input facility offered by the instrument. There is however no requirement to make a manual record on a driver card where all the activity has already been captured on an analogue record sheet.

Analogue tachographs do not have a manual input facility so a manual record must be made on the reverse of the record sheet detailing the type of activity and the times started and finished.

The only time a manual record or entry is legally required is when:



The activity takes place away from the vehicle and is not possible to use the recording equipment.

Manual records to be kept on the analogue record sheet, on printout paper or by manual input on a digital tachograph where possible.

The equipment or card malfunctions.

A manual record must be kept on an analogue record sheet or on printout paper.

The rules are breached due to an unforeseen event (see page 19).

Record reasons on a printout or the reverse of a portion of the print roll, at the latest on arrival at the suitable stopping place.

A record needs to be corrected because the incorrect mode has been recorded

Amend the record including the reason on a printout or the reverse of a portion of a print roll as soon as possible.

Manual records must be kept and produced in the same way as any other record which has been produced using recording equipment.