Smart Tachographs – what you need to know

The practice of logging professional driving activities dates back to the 1950s.

Smart tachographs HGVAnalogue tachographs were increasingly used over the next few decades and became compulsory within Europe in 1986, although the EU has laid down social legislation in the area of road transport since 1969.

Digital models were introduced in 2006 and today are used by more than 1 million transport companies and over 6 million professional drivers.

A 2006 study carried out by the IRU (the world transport road organisation) found that truck driver fatigue caused 6% of accidents, 37% of which were fatal whilst a 1995 American research study by the National Transportation Safety Board suggested that driver fatigue was in fact underrepresented and could be a factor in 30-40% of all heavy truck accidents.

The introduction of the Smart Tachograph represents the industry’s commitment to protecting public and road safety and managing compliance with industry legislation. The devices record professional drivers’ activities, such as driving hours, rest breaks and any other duties that a driver may undertake within a shift.


The introduction of the Smart Tachograph

Since June 2019, legislation has dictated that all newly registered vehicles must be fitted with a Smart Tachograph. Smart tachographs are designed to:

  • · reduce tachograph fraud
  • · improve efficiency
  • · reduce the admin burden on fleets

Two significant benefits of installing a smart tachograph are that they allow remote communication with roadside inspection officers and they automatically record the location of the vehicle at the start and end of a journey, with regular updates made every 3 hours of driving time.


What does this mean for operators and drivers?

the tachograph symbol for 'drive'In reality the introduction of smart tachographs means very little change for drivers – tachograph smartcards are used as before with digital tachographs. Drivers insert their own smartcard in to the tachograph when on duty and it will record their activities.

However, operators will notice a number of benefits. The smart tachograph will enable much more information to be harvested about fleet management which will help to inform operations within the business.

Most significant will be the impact that smart tachographs have on how enforcement authorities can access and interrogate the data they hold remotely from the roadside. The data that they can access is limited and doesn’t include personal driver details or their hours recorded and can’t be used as evidence of offences such as speeding.


Sensor changes

A key part of smart tachograph systems is the use of GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System – there’s a short video explaining it here). Devices are set up so that the head unit will automatically record location data at the start and end of a working day and after every 3 hours of driving. A driver must manually log the start and finish countries.

In order to prevent manipulation of data recorded by a smart tachograph, data from the vehicle speed sensor is compared to that from the GNSS. If there is a difference that is outside a set tolerance window, it will trigger the recording of a motion conflict.

This data is accessible via download from the head unit by enforcement authorities and can only be done from the roadside. As mentioned before, no personal data can be downloaded, and data cannot be used as evidence for speeding offences.


Smart Tachos – Points to consider

If a vehicle has been built well before June 2019 but was not registered until after that date the smart tachograph may need to be replaced with the latest model. Fitting smart tachographs to vehicles that have not had a unit installed previously may also present issues.

Damaged first-generation smart tachographs may be replaced with a like for like unit. However, if a vehicle was registered after 2006 it must be fitted with a smart head unit.

Smart tachographs will need to be replaced every 15 years – the unit will actually stop working when the security certification expires. Developments in this sector mean that it is likely that a newer model will become available within that time frame.

All operators should make sure that they still comply with GDPR regulations following the introduction of smart tachographs. The data that is collected and stored is so much more detailed, and this has important implications for GDPR compliance.

MHF is not able to offer a fitment service for smart tachographs. This is a highly specialised service which must only be done by an Approved Tachograph Centre. If you need to have a tachograph fitted, calibrated or inspected, enter your postcode in this handy search facility at


Digital Tachograph Smartcards

There are four types of digital tachograph smartcards:

  • · Driver card – carried by a driver and inserted in to a digital tachograph when the driver is on duty.
  • · Company card – used by the company for authorising vehicle downloads etc.
  • · Workshop card – available only to approved calibration centres.
  • · Control card – available only to VOSA and the Police for carrying out enforcement duties.

Driver cards are valid for 5 years and are available to apply for by post using form D777B/DC and sending it to the DVLA .

Company cards are also valid for 5 years but can be applied for and renewed online