Judge warns truckers who tamper with tachograph devices could cause dozens of deaths on roads

This post first appeared on Nottingham Post. Read the original article.

A judge has warned that truckers who tamper with devices designed to stop them driving while tired could cause dozens of deaths on roads.

The message came as he sent a Polish driver to Nottingham Crown Court for to be sentenced after he used equipment to distort the reading of a tachograph, which check if rest periods are taken.

District Judge Tim Spruce said he handles three of these offences a week and feared the lawbreakers will bring carnage to the roads.

So far this year Nottinghamshire Police have arrested and charged 22 drivers who have used devices to manipulate tachograph readings.

The force is currently running an operation to catch those who flout the law.

Digital tachograph device fitted to a truck and automatically records speed and distance

Digital tachograph device fitted to a truck and automatically records speed and distance

Tachographs record information about driving time, speed and distance. They are used to make sure drivers and employers follow the rules on drivers' hours.

Sitting at the city's magistrates' court, Judge Spruce told Andrzei Gromulski: "I don't doubt it is to do with employers of drivers such as you, seeking to make financial gain as an incentive to undermining these regulations.

"The clear mischief of these offences is the risk to the road-using public. You are an experienced driver, you know exactly why these regulations are in place - to minimise driver fatigue.

"Whilst for example on the motorway, dozens of lives would be at risk, dozens.

"The three offences I see each week are those lorry drivers who are stopped and caught.

"There is a prevalence of these offences and a significant risk to the public where people continue to defeat the driver regulations. Legislation is there purely and simply to save lives.

"There is going to be a deterrent message here," said the judge, who could have jailed Gromulski for up to a year. Instead he sent him to Nottingham Crown Court where the sentence can be longer.

The case will be heard there on October 3.

Gromulski, 55, gave his home address as Mrozy in Poland and a Polish interpreter was in court to help him follow the case.

He pleaded guilty to having a false instrument in his cab; using a false instrument to affect the vehicle storage unit; having a modified vehicle remote for use in connection with fraud.

Sanjay Jerath, prosecuting, said Gromulski's lorry was stopped near Nottingham on Monday and the equipment was found.

"It was being used to manipulate the tachograph and had an adverse impact on the suspension, speedometer and the braking system.

"He made full admissions in the resolution of this case. He is an HGV driver for an excess of 20 years and is aware of the regulations," said Mr Jerath.

Gromulski hid one small piece of equipment in his hat, the court was told.

He had driven from Germany and Mr Jerath added: "He doesn't rest and it is at the end of the journey - in this country - where the danger is."

Bill Soughton, mitigating, said Gromulski had not driven for longer than allowed in this country and was fully rested.

"He spent 38 hours rest in a lay-by near Junction 23 in accordance with the rules and regulations. He was properly and adequately rested at the time he was driving.

"He was presented with a vehicle which had been tampered with and has foolishly used it," said Mr Soughton.

Gromulski had never been in trouble before in any country and has two adult children.

Mr Soughton added: "His wife doesn't know he is in custody. He is a foreign national in the cells. He is frightened, terrified. In Poland there are financial penalties for these matters," said Mr Soughton.

He sought bail but this was refused.

Truck speeding on remote road

Truck speeding on remote road

Haulage companies in Nottingham say that "cowboy truckers" who tamper with devices designed to stop them driving while tired is giving the industry "a bad name".

Nottinghamshire Police says it is clamping down on the offence, with 22 truckers already arrested and charged this year.

Some firms in Nottinghamshire say that truckers are using equipment to distort readings of tachographs, which check if rest periods are taken, due to the competitive nature of the industry.

Other reasons include drivers wanting to finish earlier than planned, but industry professionals say they completely condemn it.

Tachographs record information about driving time, speed and distance. They are used to make sure drivers and employers follow the rules on drivers' hours.

EU rules on driving hours are that you must not drive more than nine hours in a day - this can be extended to 10 hours twice a week.

Closeup view of a hand of truck driver who inserts tachograph card to the device inside the truck cab.

Closeup view of a hand of truck driver who inserts tachograph card to the device inside the truck cab.

It is a criminal offence to tamper with the readings.

Sergeant Stephen Warren, from the East Midlands Operational Support Service Roads Policing Team, said: "Since January 2017 we’ve been running Operation Routine in partnership with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency and Highways England.

"This joint operation was launched to improve road safety within the HGV community. Between January 16 and September 11 this year we have arrested and charged 22 people in connection with tachograph fraud and false records in Nottinghamshire.

"The tachograph records driver and vehicle activities including driving, other work, availability, rest and speed and motion to ensure that they are adhering to EU and UK law under the Transport Act.

"HGV drivers are required, by law, to adhere to European regulations which stipulate set working times and breaks.

"However, the manipulation to the HGV’s tachograph could in theory allow a driver to drive 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week.

"The manipulation device can affect the mileage being recorded on the vehicle; the speedometer will often drop and remain at zero.

"It means the HGV can travel at any speed, as the speed limiter is de-activated, and no other activity is recorded. The vehicle and its braking systems are fooled into believing that the vehicle is not moving. Alarms indicate anti-lock braking system faults.

"Where we find devices and we can prove they have been used and the driver had knowledge we will then make arrests and, where appropriate, charge.

"We have also been using a new device, developed to detect any interference with the tachograph, with a high rate of success."

David Hill, 47, is the director of Roy Hill Haulage Ltd in Newark, a family run haulage company which has been running since 1974.

He told the Post: "We take a dim light on people who do things like this. We have heard stories of some companies who are using magnets (to distort readings). It is only cowboy hauliers who are not keeping to the law. It gives a bad name to the industry.

"It is just so they can work more hours or they can get more done and the people who own the trucks might give them a bonus.

"Some people do it so they can get home at night. It’s exploiting and it is a criminal offence.

"It does damage the industry’s reputation and it is dangerous for other road users. It is massively important they have the proper rest because of the nature of what they are driving."

TMS Analysis Ltd, in Morley Street, Daybrook, works with around 2,000 hauliers and coach operators to ensure their drivers are not breaking the law.

The company analyses the data from the tachograph.

Mike Ryder, 64, managing director of the company, told the Post: "When a professional company is analysing the data drivers toe the line.

"If they are driving too long and not refreshed, the dangers are tragic accidents. There have been tragic accidents in the past where drivers have not taken their breaks.

"I think they want to get to where they are going quicker or to get back for the weekend - the temptation for drivers to shortcut breaks - but that comes with obvious dangers.

"The industry is competitive and people will cut corners but inevitably they will get caught."

Digital tachograph printed day shift with toy lorries.

Digital tachograph printed day shift with toy lorries.

Transport technology company Microlise in Eastwood develops equipment and software to help commercial fleets to become more efficient.

Stephen Watson, director of product at the Nottinghamshire-based company which actively tracks more than 250,000 vehicles worldwide, said the implications for fraudulently manipulating vehicle tachograph records can be very serious.

He said: "The current drivers' hours laws are in place for a reason, and although not perfect offer a standard by which all Heavy Goods Vehicle drivers are duty bound to adhere to. As we all know, tiredness when in charge of a vehicle can lead to tragic outcomes.

"New digital tachograph technology is making it harder for fraudsters, however where individuals or organisations are incentivised to work longer hours and spend more time on the road than is legally permitted, they will try to find ways to cover their tracks."

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency says it will "pursue and prosecute anyone who attempts to undermine public safety."

A spokesman for the agency said: "We are determined to tackle the small minority of operators and drivers who choose to break the rules, and we have effective measures in place to catch offenders quickly.

"We use intelligence to carry out checks across the strategic road network, using technology such as ANPR cameras, as well as enforcement officers at the roadside and at our check sites."

According to information available on GOV.UK, the main EU rules on driving hours are that you must not drive more than:

  • 9 hours in a day - this can be extended to 10 hours twice a week
  • 56 hours in a week
  • 90 hours in any 2 consecutive weeks

All driving done under EU rules must be recorded on a tachograph.

The main points of EU rules on breaks and rest are that a driver must take:

  • at least 11 hours rest every day - you can reduce this to 9 hours rest 3 times between any 2 weekly rest periods
  • an unbroken rest period of 45 hours every week - you can reduce this to 24 hours every other week
  • a break or breaks totalling at least 45 minutes after no more than 4 hours 30 minutes driving
  • your weekly rest after 6 consecutive 24-hour periods of working, starting from the end of the last weekly rest period taken