Everything you need to know about tacho machines

Posted on 22nd August 2023 By Becky Hinshelwood

an hgv driver inserts a tacho card into a machine

A key part of the day to day as an HGV driver will be based around your tacho card. A tachograph machine, which reads your tacho card, is essentially how your vehicle communicates with your employer. If you are still at the early stages of becoming an HGV driver, it is worth familiarising yourself with how these machines work. They are a key part of managing your workload and making sure that your rights are protected. 

What is a tachograph machine?

A tachograph, or tacho, machine is a device installed in an HGV to record the data from a driver’s working shift. This data will include information such as hours worked, driving speed, distance covered, and rest periods taken. Compulsory use of tachograph machines has been in place in the EU as far back as 1975. Of course, these analogue machines were very different to the digital machines that tend to be in place now. 

Why does an HGV use a tachograph machine?

It’s useful to understand the reasons that HGV transport requires this technology to be installed. All vehicles that are 3.5 tonnes or over should be fitted with a tachograph machine. In addition to this, any vehicle registered from 1st May 2006 must be a digital, rather than analogue, machine. In practical terms, this means that you’re more likely than not to encounter a digital machine. 


Historically, governments and regulatory bodies introduced tachograph machines as a way to improve public safety. By ensuring that drivers did not operate their vehicle while tired, the likelihood of accidents or incidents is reduced. This benefits the safety of both the driver and other road users.


Moreover, monitoring data regarding hours worked and rests taken should be seen by drivers as key to their own protection. These regulations prevent employers from setting unrealistic demands on their workforce, which would put them in dangerous situations. 


As technology improves, the data that digital or smart tachographs record becomes more detailed. This can be analysed and used to make many different improvements. For example, fuel economy, driving technique, and service levels between the transport operator and client.

What are driver hour and rest regulations?

The UK continues to uphold EU regulations for driver working hours since leaving the EU. Similarly, other countries are covered by AETR (The European Agreement Concerning the Work of Crews of Vehicles Engaged in International Road Transport) regulations. A full list of countries covered by AETR can be found here Drivers must work according to the following guidelines, which the tachograph machine should reflect:

  • After a driving period of no more than 4.5 hours, drivers must take a break of at least 45 minutes.
  • The maximum daily driving limit is 9 hours but can be increased to 10 hours twice a week.
  • The maximum weekly driving limit is 56 hours.
  • The maximum number of driving hours over any 2 consecutive weeks is 90 hours.
  • You should show 11 hours minimum rest every day (which can be reduced to 9 hours 3 times between any 2 week periods)
  • There should be an unbroken rest period of 45 hours every week (which can be reduced to 24 hours every other week)

Basic tachograph controls 

You’ll need to insert your driver card at the start of your shift. This will generate a welcome screen. It’s worth checking that the time is correct at this point. Since this will be the start of your period at work, most machines will prompt you to log the intervening time from the vehicle’s last motion as ‘rest’. Driving and break logging is the core purpose of the tachograph and so this is important to get right. There are also standard symbols for ‘other work’ (loading or unloading for example), and ‘available’ (typically time spent waiting). Different machines will have different processes so make sure that you are properly trained on the machine that you will be using. However, the technology is fairly intuitive.

Your driver card

Since driving data is held on your driver card as well as the machine itself, this is actually one of the most important elements of your tachograph machine. You must not operate a vehicle while at work without inserting your driver card. The unit will still record activity, however it will show as ‘undeclared duty’ which can result in prosecution. Your card should only be removed from the vehicle at the end of your working day, unless there is a change of driver. Data from your driver card must be downloaded every 28 days. 

Recording Activity

You should be able to provide, on demand on the roadside, records for the current day and the previous 28 days. Of course, tachograph technology has come a long way since the late 19th Century, when it was first conceived to monitor irregularities on the railway. There are now software options to enable more reliable, frequent and accessible data. One thing that it’s always worth remembering, though, is that daily life as an HGV driver is never mundane and predictable! This is why, should anything out of the ordinary occur, you should always take a printout from your tacho machine and note down the occurrence on the back. For example, going over your driver hours due to a traffic jam caused by a RTA on the motorway. With different experiences every day, it can be easy to forget what might have happened on a specific day. This is why taking printouts are good for you as well as good for your employer. 

Employer Responsibilities

Don’t worry – much of the responsibility for tachograph reporting does not sit with you at all. It is the transport operator’s responsibility to download data, both from your card and from the machine itself. It is also down to the operator to ensure that you are given guidance and that the machine is fully calibrated and serviced.

Operating tachograph machines as an HGV driver will soon become second nature. With fully comprehensive driver training and the best job prospects through Surrey and Hampshire HGV Training you’ll be on the road in no time. Get in touch now! 

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