Drivers’ Hours rules made easy

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Knowledge of drivers’ hours rules is a fundamental requirement for truck drivers. Here, our aim is to set them out in the simplest terms to help reduce any uncertainty.

By Paul Loughlin, partner, Regulatory Department at Stephensons Solicitors LLP


It is your responsibility as a driver to ensure you have sufficient knowledge of the law on how many hours you can drive and the breaks you need to take. The rules differ according to the type of vehicle you drive, its weight, and depend on which country you are driving in as well as the purpose for the vehicle being driven.

EU rules for goods vehicles

You must follow EU rules if the maximum weight of your vehicle or vehicle combination is more than 3.5 tonnes and you’re driving in the UK (unless exempt from EU rules when driven in the UK), or you are driving in an EU country (meaning you are driving to, from or through any EU country). The fact the UK has now left the EU does not affect the need to comply.

There are specific exemptions to these rules that can depend on several factors ranging from vehicles operated by Armed Forces, to commercially run vehicles operating within certain weight restrictions and/or their usage is limited to travel within a certain distance of travel from the operating centre. A definitive list can be found here. 

To monitor compliance with EU rules, the use of an approved tachograph is compulsory. Tachographs monitor a driver’s activity in relation to:

Driving time, which can be no more than nine hours per day (although that can be extended to 10 hours twice a week); and a maximum of 56 hours per week; and a maximum of 90 hours in any two consecutive weeks.

Break; an uninterrupted period where a driver may freely do what they want with their time and must not involve any other work – whether in that job or any other job, regardless of the occupation and whether it involves driving. You must also discount any travel time to and from your operating centre if that involves you driving there and back, even in your own vehicle.

Rest, which must include 11 hours rest per day – a driver may reduce their daily rest period to no less than nine continuous hours, but this can be done no more than three times between any two weekly rest periods; 45 hours’ unbroken ‘weekly’ rest every week – this can drop to 24 hours every other week; 45-minute break after no more than four hours 30 minutes of driving; and a ‘weekly’ rest after six consecutive 24-hour periods of working, starting from the end of the last ‘weekly’ rest period taken.

Other Work and Periods of Availability; notably, any other work related to your activity involving the vehicle, including loading, walk-around checks and even travelling to and from a location to take charge of a goods vehicle based at a location that is not the driver’s home or their normal operating base would count as other work and must therefore be recorded. This can be done by manual entry or manual record, depending on what tachograph device is used.
Where a vehicle which is in scope of the EU rules is neither at the driver’s home nor at the employer’s operational centre where the driver is normally based, but is at a separate location, time spent travelling to or from that location to take charge of the vehicle, regardless of the mode of transport, cannot be counted as a rest or break, unless the driver is on a ferry or train and has access to a sleeper cabin (if interrupting a regular weekly rest period), or a sleeper cabin, bunk or couchette (if interrupting a regular daily rest period or a reduced weekly rest period). Even if the driver is not paid or makes the decision themselves to travel to or from home/base, the travel time cannot be counted as rest or break.
For example: If a driver had to travel for 1 hour by car, on public transport or as a passenger, to pick up a vehicle from a location that was not their home or normal operating base then this time would count as other work. Similarly, if they had to travel back by car, on public transport or as a passenger, from a location that was not their normal operating base, this would count as other work.

The tachograph also records vehicle speed and distance travelled by the vehicle.

Domestic drivers’ hours rules

The domestic drivers’ hours rules for goods vehicles are used in most cases where the EU rules do not apply and when you are driving in England, Wales and Scotland. These rules monitor duty time, daily driving limits and daily duty limits.

For drivers employed by someone else, all working time is considered to be ‘duty time’. Those who are self-employed can assess duty time as time spent driving the vehicle or doing other work related to the vehicle or its load.

There are some key points relating to duty time. Firstly, there is a daily driving limit where you must not drive for more than 10 hours in a day; a daily duty limit where you must not be on duty for more than 11 hours in any working day – this is not relevant for a working day when you don’t drive. Hours must be recorded on a weekly record sheet or on a tachograph.

Next, some vehicles are exempt from the duty limit, namely those where the vehicle weighs less than 3.5 tonnes and you’re using your vehicle as a doctor, dentist, nurse, midwife or vet; for inspection, cleaning or maintenance work; as commercial travellers when carrying goods (other than personal effects) only for the purpose of soliciting orders; working for the AA, RAC or RSAC; and for cinematography or radio and television broadcasting.

Lastly, there are, however, exemptions to all domestic rules, specifically if you have to deal with an emergency – eg, a major disruption to public services or danger to life; use the vehicle for private driving and not for work; drive off-road or on private roads during duty time; and drive a vehicle used by the armed forces, police or fire brigade.

AETR rules

Drivers also need to be aware of the European Agreement Concerning the Work of Crews of Vehicles Engaged in International Road Transport (AETR) rules on drivers’ hours, breaks and rest. These are essentially the same as EU rules apart from a few minor differences.

Under the rules, you can work for more than four consecutive weeks without returning to your home or where the vehicle is usually based; you can take just one reduced weekly rest period – that is less than 45 hours at a time, BUT this must be followed by one full weekly rest period. Also, you can only interrupt your regular daily rest period (11 hours) during ferry crossings.

A list of countries where the AETR rules cover can be found at


Drivers will be subject to internal monitoring of compliance with these rules by their transport managers and employers. Failure to comply should at the very least result in internal disciplinary action being taken that could result in the loss of your job. At worst, it could lead to your employers to report any persistent or serious issues to the traffic commissioner for consideration.

Aside from ensuring compliance with contractual obligations relating to your job role, adhering to these rules is essential from both a regulatory compliance perspective and from a wide-ranging legal perspective.

If the matter is brought to the attention of the DVSA, either through findings of a random roadside encounter or through an inspection of your employer’s overall compliance systems, this could result in any number of penalties being imposed. Such penalties range from roadside prohibitions involving the issue of a fixed penalty and a potential referral to the traffic commissioner, to the issue of any criminal charges against an individual driver. This could lead to a prison sentence where it is established there is evidence of the most serious instances of deliberate manipulation of the rules to avoid detection and avoid compliance with the maximum working hours and minimum break times.

It follows that the consequences of breaching these rules at a criminal level will depend on the circumstances of the offence and the seriousness of the action. Regardless, they have implications for both the driver and the operator.

Serious penalties

Many offences are tried in the Magistrates’ Court and can lead to financial penalties being imposed alongside a criminal conviction. For example, a breach of EU Regulations on driving times, breaks and rest periods could mean a fine of up to £2500 may be applied. Alternatively, a failure to keep proper records may carry a fine of £2500.

The sanctions for deliberately falsifying records are generally more severe and can be heard in either the Magistrates’ Court as a ‘summary only offence’ or, if considered more serious, they will be tried in the Crown Court where tougher sentencing powers are available.

For false entry or alteration of a record with the intent to deceive – on summary conviction, this carries an unlimited fine, but on indictment it carries up to two years’ imprisonment. And altering or forging the seal on a tachograph with the intent to deceive – on summary conviction, this carries an unlimited fine, and on indictment carries up to two years’ imprisonment.

Where a driver has been accused of using another driver’s card to create a false record, sometimes done to infringe drivers’ hours regulations, if this was knowingly done drivers and those supplying their card may be prosecuted and may be called to a driver conduct hearing before the traffic commissioner.

And where a device is used to interfere with a tachograph, this may be seen as a deliberate attempt to falsify and distort records. This type of offence is more likely to lead to prosecution and potentially imprisonment.

Even if the driver manages to avoid the most serious of consequences following any criminal process, they will then invariably face the scrutiny of the traffic commissioner who will consider various factors, including the type of offence and/or number of offences committed, aggravating and mitigating factors, and whether the offence was planned.

The traffic commissioner will also examine if it was a repeat offence and how probable further offences may be. Wider conduct of the driver unrelated to their vocational licence requirements and expectations can also be considered, and the driver may be asked to answer questions on this. The outcomes include anything from taking no action, to a revocation of your vocational driving entitlement.


It’s patently clear there are stringent rules in place for drivers and the hours they work. Failing to comply with them can lead to the most serious of professional and personal consequences. Drivers should make sure to obtain regular refresher training to ensure ongoing compliance; their livelihoods are at stake otherwise.