It’s a gadget that’s been around for more than 100 years, making roads and driving conditions all over the world considerably safer. When the tachograph was invented in the late 1920s by German-born inventor Max Maria von Heber, it was heralded as revolutionary and the use of these devices is now commonplace, in accordance with international legislation that controls commercial vehicles.
History of the tachograph
Tachographs were introduced in the early part of the 20th century, to record rail journeys. With the advent of automobiles, the technology was transferred to this mode of transport, to record the duration and speed of journeys made by the likes of cargo drivers.
The most significant advantage of fitting vehicles with tachographs is the ability to determine whether drivers are taking the breaks which are specified by law.
In the EU, tachographs have been mandatory in commercial vehicles since 1986 and legislation has been updated since then to determine new driving and rest times required of drivers. The latest such amendment was made in 2007.
You can find details of the UK legislation that regulates tachographs on the UK government website.
Reading a tachograph
There are two types of tachograph: analogue and digital.
An analogue tachograph works by making a record of a journey on a wax paper disc, similar in size to a UK tax disc. Placed behind a dial in the vehicle’s cab, the dial makes a full rotation over 24 hours, marking the paper to document the driving time and speed of the vehicle. This handy YouTube video provides a detailed explanation of how to use, complete and read a paper tachograph report.
While older, and considerably outdated, designs of tachographs were read manually – and could be annotated by hand by drivers – these designs were also vulnerable to tampering. To prevent individuals from interfering with the record of their journey, digital tachographs were made mandatory in vehicles manufactured after May 2006.
Such digital models transfer data in a file format, after which it can only be read and analysed with the use of corresponding software. Companies like Stoneridge Electronics specialise in providing this software for digital tachographs, though they also provide software solutions that can be used to analyse paper formats more accurately.
For and against
There are those who argue against the use of tachographs, saying it puts extra pressure on drivers to complete journeys ahead of schedule, without stopping for unscheduled breaks.
Those supporting the use of the technology in the industry credit it with reduced number of accidents involving commercial vehicles and consider it a supportive tool for drivers, who without tachographs and related legislation, would have little limit on the number of hours they were asked to work.