Select Committee on European Union Forty-Ninth Report


Letter from John Spellar MP to The Chairman

  1.  On 21 November 2001, David Jamieson submitted to your Committee Explanatory Memorandum (No.12934/01) on the European Commission's proposal to replace Council Regulation (EEC) 3820/85 on drivers' hours. The EM was referred to Sub-Committee B on 27 November 2001 (1083rd sift). In your response of 4 December[20], you asked for further clarification on the linkage between this proposal and the Working Time Directive for mobile workers (WTD), the provision on extra-territorial jurisdiction, and to be kept informed of the outcome of our public consultation exercise. David Jamieson's letter of 8 January 2002 responded to the first two of these and I am now writing to provide details of the consultation exercise.

  2.  Not surprisingly, the consultation exercise produced conflicting views—with the employers and the unions holding opposing views on most of the proposed changes. Although it is generally accepted that the existing rules are complex, the employers are unhappy that the timing of the Commission's proposals (due to be implemented in January 2004) will cause even more confusion at a time of considerable change—ie, the introduction of working time limits (March 2005) and digital tachographs (May 2004). They are also concerned that some of the proposed changes—particularly to daily and weekly rest—would lead to a loss of operational flexibility. On the other hand, the Unions believe that the proposed changes do not go far enough. The main points of concern centre on the following:


  3.  The rules require a 45 minute break after 4½ hours driving. But, at present, this can be split into 15 minute segments—the last of which "wipes the slate clean" for another 4½ Driving. Thus, the removal of the 15 minute split break will remove an anomaly whereby it is possible to drive for over nine hours with only one 15 minute break. Under the new proposal, a driver would have the option of taking a 45 minute break after 4½ hours driving, or a 30 minute break after 3 hours driving, or combinations of both. So the maximum exploitation of this would be 7.5 hours driving with a 30 minute break after three hours. In our view, this is a reasonable balance between safety and flexibility.


  4.  This currently allows an increased daily rest period of 12 consecutive hours to be split into several periods, each of not less than one hour, provided that the last period is at least eight consecutive hours. The proposal would remove this. Employers view this with concern because it is commonly used in the haulage industry, where drivers spend time waiting for their vehicle to be loaded or unloaded at depots, and also in the coach industry for commuter services, where drivers rest during the day. On the other hand, the Unions argue that split rest is difficult to enforce and means, in effect, only an eight hour rest. The arguments for keeping some form of split daily rest are sound provided that it can be enforced. One solution that has been suggested is a 9+3 hour split. We propose that the UK should support this or some other equally enforceable and sensible variation.


  5.  The normal weekly rest requirement is 45 consecutive hours but this can be reduced to 36 hours (if taken at base) and 24 hours (if away) provided that the reductions are compensated for. In practice, the compensations are very difficult to enforce. As proposed, drivers would no longer be able to take reduced weekly rest at base and the industry is concerned that this will lead to a fixed five day working week, as opposed to a 5½-6 day week as now. Another potential problem is that there is no requirement for location to be recorded by digital tachographs, so there would be no way of knowing whether the driver was away from base when taking rest. Again, these concerns have been recognised at EU level, and support is growing amongst Member States for reduced rest of 24 hours taken at, or away from, base provided that every 13 days a full 45 hours rest is taken. We propose that the UK should support this.


  6.  The coach tour industry is particularly concerned about the revocation of the 12 day rule which allows drivers to postpone their weekly rest until the end of the twelfth day (instead of taking it after six days). At present, seven-day tours and other international coach operations rely heavily on this provision. As proposed, drivers would have to take either a 24 (if away from base) or a 45 hour rest period after a maximum of six days, which industry argues could jeopardise some tours because of the increased cost of providing additional drivers to cover rest days. But what has to be balanced here are the road safety implications against the cost to industry of having to schedule a 24 hour rest on a 7day tour. The Unions strongly support the revocation of the 12 day rule on the grounds that there have been a number of coach tour accidents in recent years which have attracted media attention. There is no similar provision for HGV drivers, and revocation has received widespread support from the enforcement authorities and at EU level.

  7.  Some concerns have also been expressed by employers about the removal of some of the exemptions from the rules. Some claim this will lead to a loss of productivity and a need for additional drivers and vehicles to satisfy customer demand. In general we believe that, if the rules are likely to bite on transport operations, it is because a lot of driving is being done and it is reasonable therefore that such operations should be subject to the rules. But we are concerned about the impact of bringing into scope of the rules 10-17 seat minibuses operated by the voluntary sector, and also specialised breakdown vehicles operating beyond a 50km radius of base. We shall be pressing for a national derogation for non-commercial minibus operations, and also for an increase in the radius within which specialised breakdown vehicles would be allowed to operate before the rules bite.

  8.  The industry would also prefer to harmonise the definitions in this Regulation with those in the WTD. We have sympathy with this view and, in general, will seek a rational alignment of the two, provided it does not erode the enforceability of the drivers' hours rules.

30 July 2002

Letter from the Chairman to John Spellar MP

  Thank you for your letter dated 30 July picking up the third point in my letter of 4 December 2001, namely the outcome of your public consultation exercise. This letter was considered by Sub-Committee B at its meeting on 21 October.

  We recognise that there is a balance to be struck here between the concerns of industry, and the need to maintain high levels of road safety. We note that you intend to press for a UK national derogation for non-commercial minibus operations, and also for an increase in the radius within which specialised breakdown vehicles would be allowed to operate before the rules bite. We should like to be informed in due course whether or not you are able to achieve such a derogation.

  We are, however, grateful for the detailed replies which you and David Jamieson MP have given to allay our concerns. Under the circumstances, we agree that the Scrutiny reserve may now be lifted.

22 October 2002

Letter from John Spellar MP to the Chairman

  I am writing to update your Committee on the European Commission's proposal to replace Council Regulation (EEC) 3820/85 on drivers' hours (COM(2001) 573 Final), and in particular, to report on the outcome of the European Parliament's first Reading. The details of this proposal were set out in Explanatory Memorandum 12934/01 which was cleared by your Committee on 16 October 2002.

  Little progress has been made at the Council working group. This is partly because of the difficulties of harmonising certain crucial definitions with those in the Working Time Directive whilst at the same time ensuring that the drivers' hours rules are still coherent and enforceable. However, the European Parliament (EP), in its first Reading of the Commission proposal on 14 January 2003, adopted 69 amendments (it considered 114 amendments in total, 70 of which were presented in a report given by Helmuth Markov on behalf of the Committee on Regional Policy, Transport and Tourism). The Commission is obliged to respond to the EP's amendments, and has indicated that it will now redraft its original proposal, accepting or rejecting the EP's amendments. But the amended proposal would still have to be considered by the Council and there is no guarantee that the Greek Presidency will put the dossier back on the agenda.

  A copy of the formal Council document listing the EP's adopted amendments is attached, together with a summary (Annex A) of our initial views and those expressed by the Commission at the time they were proposed. I think you will find most of the amendments self-explanatory, some of which are relatively minor in nature and/or are simply stylistic improvements. So I only propose to single out for comment those amendments which we consider to be the most contentious. These are:


  This was considered in the context of the 1998 Regulation on digital tachographs and rejected because of opposition from the Mediterranean countries. Whilst, there is an argument for some retro-fitting of digital tachographs (to reduce the period in which two quite different systems exist), the cost implications are likely to be unacceptable to the industry. Whilst the cost of fitting digital tachographs in new vehicles is unlikely to be significantly more, the cost to an operator of replacing an existing tachograph with a digital tachograph is likely to be in the region of £1,000 per vehicle, but this could be higher for certain types of vehicle.


  It would be more appropriate for any proposed increase in the minimum number of drivers' hours checks to be dealt with as part of the Commission's proposed review of Directive 88/599 on enforcement. The existing tachograph uses daily paper charts which are relatively time consuming to check. This is reflected by the fact that the minimum number of charts which the Directive requires Member States to check is 1 per cent. In the UK this is just over two million charts. So, raising the minimum number of checks to 2 per cent would have major resource implications for the enforcement authorities unless it is linked to technological change. The Commission has already indicated that the introduction of the digital tachograph, which should allow a significant increase in the number of driving days checked, will form the basis of any increase proposed in its review of Directive 88/599.


  The cost of retrofitting tachographs, probably digital tachographs, to the large number of courier/express delivery vans under 3.5 tonnes would be considerable, and there would also be major resource implications for the enforcement authorities given the huge increase in the number of tachograph charts that would need to be checked. Also, given that most drivers' hours enforcement is retrospective, it would be difficult to know whether a van had, or had not, been used for the purposes described.

  I hope this information will be of some help to the Committee.

1 April 2003

20   Printed in correspondence with Ministers, 18th Report, session 1001, 2002, HL99 Back

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