How truckers are dicing with death by tricking with tachographs
* Our Road Safety Authority expert reveals how unscrupulous operators are putting lives at risk
THE RSA has repeatedly warned drivers and operators of buses and trucks about the dangers and risks of using devices to manipulate and interfere with the tachograph. This is the device that records the number of hours a driver has been on the road.
Where any breaches of 'driver's hours' laws are detected, we take a common sense approach to enforcement. Depending on the severity of the offence this can range from educational and advisory, to a direction notice being issued and ultimately, taking a prosecution. In 2014, the RSA took 247 prosecutions.
While the majority of professional drivers are not breaking the law, we are detecting more tachograph fraud during roadside checkpoints we run with the Gardai. One such tactic that's at the severe end of the scale, is to use a magnet to disable the tachograph.
The RSA took a case recently against a truck driver for failing to keep proper records of driving hours. The driver was detected by our Transport Officer using a magnet on the truck's gearbox. That is a deliberate and deceptive action, which interferes with the recording process of the tachograph, to falsify driving records.
In addition to the magnet interfering with the ability of the tachograph to record when the vehicle is being driven, it also affects other important vehicle systems. It disables the speed limiter, the speedometer and the gearbox management system.
Using a magnet fools the vehicle into thinking that it's stationary. It could cause damage to the gearbox. It could cause the truck to jack-knife if a low gear was selected by mistake at a high speed. It can also disable the suspension management system allowing the overloading of drive axles on three-axle trucks.
To put it in every-day terms: imagine a 46-tonne vehicle, being manipulated by a magnet, coming towards you in excess of 100kmh with a tired driver behind the wheel, which could suddenly jack-knife. It's a serious situation and potentially puts many lives at risk.
The gravity of the situation was reflected in a recent case when the judge handed down a fine of €3,000 and a four-month prison sentence, which was suspended for three years. The judge also banned the driver from driving for six months.
Rogue drivers and operators believe they can fool the system and avoid fines by putting the tachograph to sleep, and disguising the actual time spent behind the wheel.
They ignore road safety laws that regulate driving time and rest periods to gain an unfair commercial advantage. The rules are aimed at avoiding driver fatigue in commercial vehicle drivers who spend the longest time on our roads. Driver fatigue is a silent killer and is estimated to be a contributory factor in approximately 1-in-5 fatal crashes in Ireland.
The RSA's Transport Officers are well trained in detecting such devices and checkpoints are held regularly to target offenders. Truck manufacturers are also aware of the practice and it is now possible for Transport Officers to use diagnostic equipment, at the roadside, to detect if a magnet was used in the past.
The European Commission is aware of the problem and a new tachograph system, effective since October 2012, has been fitted to all new vehicles since that date. It uses increased security to prevent fraudulent manipulation.
Aside from the risk of causing a catastrophic crash, there are also stiff penalties if a truck or bus driver does get caught using manipulation devices. And as one judge warned recently, anyone convicted of using a magnet to interfere with a tachograph could face a jail term.