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Traffic delays and drivers’ hours
Traffic jams pose a significant risk of non-compliance with the rules on drivers’ hours. A driver of an HGV is subject to both EU and UK rules on the number of hours they can drive, as well the total hours they can work in any period. Being stuck in a traffic queue is generally deemed to be driving (and working) which can cause real problems. Does the driver take the rest break which is now due – or make his delivery on time and break the law?
But does the driver always have a choice? What if he is due a break but is stuck in a slow moving queue, miles from the nearest exit? EU law permits a driver to carry on just long enough to reach a suitable stopping place to ensure the safety of people, the vehicle or the load as long as road safety is not at risk. But commercial imperative is not sufficient justification for carrying on driving which means even crucial delivery deadlines must be missed to give the driver sufficient rest.
A deviation from the rules will always show up on tachograph records and these should be annotated to provide a reason as soon as the driver reaches a suitable stopping place and not just on arrival back at the operating centre.
Can a traffic jam ever count as a break?
In extremely limited circumstances a driver might be able to record the time as a break, provided
- His vehicle is completely stationary in traffic
- Driving totally ceases and the driver is confident he won’t need to drive for a reasonable period
- He is not doing anything else related to his work (i.e. checking and securing the vehicle or communicating with the office or customers) and can do what he likes with his time
What about circumstances such as organised queues of vehicles at ferry ports? Even if a driver is away from the vehicle it is usually the case that he may be required to return to it at any time ie if the queue moves. So even a period spent not driving or undertaking ‘other work’ may still constitute a ‘period of availability’ under EU working time rules.
How to reduce the risk of non-compliance
- Plan for likely traffic patterns
- Where unforeseen delays occur, stop and take a break as soon as it’s safe to do so
- As soon as possible record a manual tacograph entry with an explanation of the cause of the breach
Remember – breaches of drivers’ hours and working time rules can result in criminal prosecution.