There were two big happenings that affected the market in 2006: the advent of digital tachographs in May and the introduction of Euro 4 emission standards in October. Like everyone, we tried our best to anticipate what these two would do to demand.
Like everyone, we thought digitachs would be a pain but liveable with, while Euro 4 would cause all kinds of boom buying prior to the October deadline with operators panicking to get Euro 3 product and slow on the uptake of Euro 4s in the short to medium term.
Well, that’s not quite the way it panned out. Bluntly, digitachs caused a far greater impact that anyone ever expected. Euro 4 did cause a stir but a far smaller one that we ever expected.
Why were digitachs such a headache? The one thing we, the industry, didn’t expect was the faffing about and complete lack of clarity from the legislators. We knew digitachs would be mandatory 20 days after the publication of the appropriate statutory instrument – and we allowed for that.
The problem was: we didn’t know when the statutory instrument was actually going to be published. We knew it was likely to be in April and we knew that digitachs would probably become mandatory in May as a result. But as time got closer, we all comforted ourselves with the thought that: “Well we haven’t had any confirmation yet, so surely they will allow us enough time to get our ducks in a row, won’t they?”
Wrong. At the very last minute the instrument was published, the introduction date was set, and before you could even say “digital tachographs”, they were with us.
But that wasn’t all – there was the issue of Driver’s Cards. The communication on this has been quite pathetic. Where were all the ads saying: “Digitachs are on the way, fellers. Get your Driver’s Cards now – and this is how you do it”?
We never saw any. Did you? And did the majority of UK truck drivers? The answer has to be a big fat “No”. That’s why, even now, some eight months after digitach introduction, only just over 20 per cent of the UK’s LGV driver population actually have driver’s cards.
Some 395,000 still haven’t applied for their cards, so cannot drive a truck registered after 1 May 2006. As a result operators have been desperate to hold on to trucks with analogue tachos for as long as they possibly can.
The majority of the market sources its trucks through some form of rental or contract hire. John Lewis, chairman of the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association, said in a recent interview that utilisation levels are at record levels but only for trucks with analogue tachos. He cites the case of one member fleet that took five digitach equipped vehicles and then had to hire agency drivers to driver them because their own drivers lacked the appropriate driver’s cards and were unwilling to obtain them.
Then there is the real world practical problem of the truck that breaks down at the side of the road. The contracted replacement arrives only to find it can’t go anywhere because it has a digital tacho and the driver doesn’t have a card.
As John Lewis says, why on earth isn’t the government screaming from the rooftops about the need to take up driver’s cards – and even better incentivising it, so that we can sort the problem and get on with the future.
Word is now beginning to get around – drivers and companies are realising they need to get their cards or risk getting left behind.
It’s only sense. Digital tachographs mean safer working conditions for drivers, enhanced profitability for operators and a safer, more environmentally friendly road transport sector.