Caught in a jam – changes to EU drivers’ hours rules effective from 20 August 2020.

A not uncommon scenario for professional drivers is being caught up in the aftermath of an accident on the motorway. They are struck in a queue of traffic waiting for the motorway to re-open or to pass the cause of the blockage. The driver is unable to take either a scheduled break or misses the time by which he should be starting a daily or weekly rest.

The EU drivers’ hours rules have allowed for the driver, in an emergency, to breach the drivers’ hours rules to the extent necessary to ensure the safety of persons, the vehicle or its load, provided that road safety is not put in jeopardy. However, strict procedures needed to be followed. On arrival at a suitable stopping place, the driver needed to indicate the reasons and circumstances for departing from the rules on the tachograph or by means of doing a print out manual entry. An emergency is by definition unforeseen; the provisions are not to be used as a means of regularly extending driving time.

An amendment has been published to the drivers’ hours rules which, amongst other things, makes additional provisions regarding emergency situations. Under the amended rules, in exceptional circumstances and providing that road safety is not jeopardised, the driver may exceed daily and weekly driving limits and the resulting insufficient daily rest by up to an hour in order to get to the operating centre or the drivers’ home in order to take a weekly rest. In the same conditions, the driving can be exceeded by up to 2 hours but there must be an uninterrupted break of at least 30 minutes taken before undertaking any additional driving to reach either the operating centre or the driver’s home where the driver starts a regular weekly rest period. As before, there needs to be a record made or the reason for the departure from the rules and this be done, at the latest on arrival at the destination or suitable stopping place. The amendment now makes clear that any period of extending duty time is to be compensated by an equivalent period of rest taken en bloc with any period of rest by the end of the third week, following the week in question.

The new rules come into effect on 20 August 2020 and apply at least until the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020. The changes to the rules dealing with emergency situations are just one of the changes and drivers and operators need to be aware and following the new rules with effect from 20 August 2020. The above changes have reduced the options available to a driver who finds himself caught up in an emergency situation. Those options are now further limited by the fact that weekly rests cannot be taken in a vehicle and if accommodation needs to be found, the cost has to be covered by the employer.

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