Is your fleet ready to go digital?

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In-cab technology has moved along consistently with hauliers having more and more choice over how they keep track of their fleet and what goes into their cabs; touch-screen computers, GPS, GPRS and Mobile Network Terminals. Tachograph technology has also moved on since early specifications for the first analogue designs were published in December 1985.

The subject of digital tachographs has been prevalent in the media of late, with problems arising from confusing EU legislation and an unclear date of mandatory implementation. Digital tachographs, otherwise known rather vaguely as “recording equipment”, are similar in appearance to a modular analogue tachograph; they come in separate parts, a vehicle unit and a speedometer – but that is where the similarities end.
There are currently four digital ‘smart-cards’ in use, which are collectively known as ‘tachograph cards’ these comprise of; the driver card, company card, workshop card and control card. Information from the vehicle unit can be downloaded to carry out checks on driver’s hours and rostering as and when required. The company card allows the users to lock data recorded in the vehicle unit to prevent another operator viewing the data.

Digital tachographs have integral data memory that is integrated into the control unit and allows the mass memory to store data for around 365 calendar days with average driver activity. One of the major advantages of digital tachographs is that the extra security allows for a less likelihood of tampering taking place. The sender unit or ‘motion sensor’ as it’s more descriptively termed, is set inside the vehicle unit and is electronically encrypted to give greater protection against tampering. Siemens VDO Automotive is a leading supplier of electronics and manufactures a number of in-cab products. They say of the benefits “computers record all the relevant driver and vehicle-related data during the trip, from vehicle speed and distance through to driving style and engine revs.”

Onboard computer

They say: “It is now even possible to monitor the tank. As the onboard computer can regularly transmit data on fuel levels and automatically display dramatic changes in level, if wished, it is possible for the fleet manager to keep a check over thousands of miles on whether fuel is stolen and take appropriate action.”
The core of current EU requirements for the fitment and use of tachographs and the technical specifications can all be found within the original Council Regulation (EEC) no 3821/85, passed back in December 1985.
Further changes allowed for the requirements of an armoured speed sender cable and then in 1995 introduced the possibility of protecting the signal from the speed sender by methods other than armoured cable e.g. signal encryption. Digital amendments began in 1998 with the Council Regulation 2135/98, this regulation was the introduction of digital tachographs. The technical specifications for digital tachos can be found in Commission Regulation 1360/2002 which was written in June 2002.

Green light

When asked if transport companies are ready to put the new equipment in place or whether the need has crept up on them, Richard Branston general manager road & port operations at Freightliner said: “Similar to the Working Time Directive (WTD), there has been a lot of talk, but, in my view, little substance. A substantial number of trucks on UK roads are leased, so the fitment would be responsibility of the leasing company. Even now no date has been given, although I feel we’ll probably get three to six months notice, which will probably be insufficient. Can you imagine the rush once the green light is given?”
On the same subject of whether companies are ready or if the need has crept up, Ray Cattley, manager of legislation and environment for Volvo Trucks said: “Yes and no. In essence it makes sense. From an enforcement point of view, from a technological point of view and the way we process electronic data now; it makes sense.”

Opinions over the matter differ. Mercedes’ Ian Norwell says: “No they’re not ready in the main and no it hasn’t been pushed on companies too quickly.” He pointed out that when tachographs were first introduced and replaced driver’s records, the record keeping was widely open to mismanagement and gave rise to the phrase “spy in the cab”.
When discussing the introduction of analogue tachos, he went on to say that there was a long lead time, as everybody in the public and industry knew that it was coming, but still there were long queues outside tachograph fitting stations right up until the mandatory deadline.
“On that occasion there was a very clear date, which is something that we currently do not have. It was something that operators did not want to be bothered with and they stuck their heads in the sand.”
There also appears to be a difference of opinion in regards to whether the UK government is doing enough to assist transport companies in implementing the new technology, and also over whether the EU has allowed enough time for both manufacturers and end-users to prepare.
Branston says: “Simply, no. I feel that clear guidelines should be given with sensible published timescales so implementation could be completed in a timely manner with minimum disruption to business.”
Norwell says: “The operator is partly to blame for putting their head in the sand but the EU is also. Without delivering a date, it’s unfair on the operating industry that has got lots of other things to think about.” When asked what more could be done, he says:
“There’s no excuse really for not knowing that digital tachographs are on their way. I suppose the only argument is, have they put enough pressure on Brussels.” When asked if the EU has given companies and manufacturers enough time for the change he says: “Yes, they have. But give us a firm date. It all comes back to that.”

When asked about the kind of benefits that the move is likely to afford the UK transport industry?
Branston says: “We welcome the introduction because we operate an electronic tacho and WTD system, therefore receiving data electronically would speed up our in-house processes. Other operations may feel they are importing more bureaucracy and cost, which for all operators would probably be passed on to the consumer.”
Speaking on the same issue, Cattley says: “I think they’ve been quiet supportive of the industry, actually. I think they’ve been quite pragmatic and they’ve listened.” Cattley said that although the UK government has the presidency, they can not run ‘ram-rod’ over the EU.

“The EU Commission are doggedly going on, with their heads in the sand about all the implications of digital tachographs. There’s also the issue of the EU Parliament and there’s a lot of horse trading going on now between the date where the parliament were holding out the 5 August 2006, for new bills and 2007 for new registrations, who have probably caved in on the tachograph date for something to do with the EU drivers hours amendments.”
Discussing the potential cost implications of fitting out fleets, Branston said: “Downtime and the cost of equipment, a cost which will need to be passed on. Planned properly this cost and downtime could be substantially reduced.”
With driver cards being charged at £38, company cards and the need to purchase download tools which can be around £150, down-time losses, in-cab printer rolls, analyses software and linked-in training schemes, the prices for converting a fleet to digital tachographs can quickly add up.
When speaking about the benefits of the change Darrell Taylor, marketing manager fleet management systems for Scania, says: “Once the system is up and running and 100 per cent consistent, you’ve got very good and very accurate data. You can do away with the problems of losing tachograph charts, incorrectly assigning them or being mounted in the wrong place. You get more consistency of data.”
The debate over in-cab technology seems to boil down to the need for much greater clarity. When asked if he felt that he had been led into this blind, Cattley said: “As a piece of equipment, no. The ‘blind bit’ is knowing when…When they’ve got a date, lets’ make sure its achievable but also let’s make sure the EU recognise the implications of the new tachograph, because its implications reach a long way.”

Need for clarity

Norwell thinks that the question of clarity was of particular importance and goes on to discuss the question of who was going to have to stump up the cost of the driver’s card “is it up to the driver, presenting himself for work or is it something that the employer should provide?”
At the moment that is a little unclear.” Norwell says: “If you could look at all the detail on a vehicle and how it’s being driven; the number of gear shifts, harsh braking, and use that positively as a driver training tool as some companies do, and use it sensitively, otherwise it is the spy in the cab.”
A number of training schemes are being set up to deal with the number of companies unprepared for the shift and include driver awareness, tachograph workshops and driver training.
The FTA has joined with Stoneridge Electronics to provide a training solution. They say: “Digital tachograph training will be hands on training using real equipment and real smart cards and the FTA/Stoneridge partnership will ensure the best practical training is available to ensure everyone from supervisory level to drivers understands what the requirements are.”
Siemens VDO Automotive and digital spirit are also working in co-operation in developing training packages. Summing up the debate, Taylor says: “The crux of the matter is that there’s been plenty of forewarning, the difficulty is the uncertainty and when it’s coming.”
Cattley said: “It shows that we’re moving in the right direction. If no one was abusing the current tachographs, there wouldn’t be a need to do it.”

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