What is a Tachograph and Do You Need One in Australia?


Our site is reader-supported – by clicking our links, we can match you with a potential supplier, and we may earn a small commission for this referral.

Numbers are essential in fleet management as they help give you an accurate overview of your fleet’s performance. As such, it’s crucial to have a system that helps you monitor the hours, speed, and distance travelled by your fleet. Fortunately, we have tachographs for this.

tachograph records all of the aforementioned data and ensures that your drivers follow the recommended driving hours, to ensure their safety while on the road. For a deep dive into tachographs and whether they’re the missing piece for your fleet’s puzzle, read on. 

For the ultimate fleet management solutions for your business, our free quote comparison tool can help you get started. Just answer a few questions about your fleet, and our trusted providers will get back to you with tailored, obligation-free quotes.

What is a tachograph?

Let’s jump head first into our tachograph deep dive. Simply put, a tachograph is a device that keeps track of the speed at which a vehicle travels as well as the distance and the time it has travelled. It also records the rest times and availability of your drivers. This simple extra helps ensure that your drivers are nowhere near driver fatigue, which accounts for 20 to 30 per cent of all car crashes in Australia.

It is worth noting that tachographs are only legally required for fleets under the domestic UKEU, or AETR (International Road Transport Agreement) laws. It’s also required for vehicles that carry over 3.5 tonnes of goods and transport nine or more passengers (including the driver).

While this is legally mandated for every fleet, there are exemptions to the rules. In specific, limited cases, your fleet can be laid off the tachograph mandate if:

  • Your fleet uses lighter work vehicles, such as vans, non-commercial vehicles, or private minibuses
  • Your permitted speed is no more than 40km/h
  • Your truck’s maximum gross vehicle weight is 3.5 tonnes

Analogue vs digital tachographs

This crash course would not be complete without an introduction to the two types of tachographs: analogue and digital. Before we jump into these two, it’s worth noting that all commercial vehicles that were first registered on or after May 1, 2006, need digital tachographs installed in their vehicles. Otherwise, you need analogue tachographs. 

Analogue tachographs

Analogue tachographs first came into distribution in 1985, and were widely used as the sole log book solution before digital tachographs were welcomed into the ring in 2006.

Using three styli, lines are traced into a tacho (a circular, wax-coated chart) to record your driving data. These lines will then log your speed, distance, and activity, including manual entry spaces for your daily working hours, rest periods, and activities outside the vehicle.

The tacho rotates throughout the day, encompassing a full 24-hour period. Keep in mind though, you should not leave the tacho running for more than 24 hours as this is deemed illegal according to EU Regulation 561/2006. Doing so will record a second trace into the first one, and it will be much harder to decipher the overlapping traces. Another key difference of analogue tachographs is that it cannot send signals to your drivers whenever it’s time to replace the tacho, so you must always stay on top of the rotation hours.

There are two ways to retrieve data from analogue tachographs: you can do it through manual analysis or electronic scanners linked to a PC. As analogue tachographs are easy to tamper with, it’s still best to factor in human interpretation. Even minute things found in the wax surface, like dirt, dust, and scratch marks, can be incorrectly interpreted as trace marks and alter your driving data.

Save by comparing bespoke quotes from the best providers for you
Do you already have a vehicle tracking system?
Simply answer a few questions – it only takes a minute

Digital tachographs

You can think of digital tachographs as an upgraded version of analogue tachographs. They’re much easier and faster to use and more secure because they only send encrypted signals. Digital tachographs save digital information about your drivers and vehicles into a smart card (akin to a driver’s license), which contains the driver’s photo, name, date of birth, and the card’s expiration date. 

And instead of replacing tacho cards every 24 hours, you only have to download the data of your digital tachographs every 90 days. As for the driver cards, data must be downloaded every 28 days for analysis and legal verification. Here’s everything you can retrieve from digital tachographs:

  • Vehicle registration number
  • Vehicle speed in 24 hours
  • Driver and co-driver information
  • Number of times a driver card is inserted each day
  • Distance travelled via odometer readings
  • Driving time, rest hours, break time, and work availability
  • Tachograph calibrations
  • Enforcement checks

Before your digital tachographs can record data, all smart cards must first be examined and authorised. Once you’re given the green light to insert the smart cards into the tachographs, it will automatically detect when the vehicles are moving and digitally capture the data. The data will then be transferred to the smart cards for interpretation. If you need immediate reports, you can print it instantly from the machine, just like how a receipt works. It is worth noting that, as per the law, you may only remove the smart card at the end of the shift!

Do I need tachographs for my fleet in Australia?

Tachographs are convenient tools for tracking the work hours of your drivers. However, if you’re operating in Australia and not in the EU and UK, then tachographs are not for you. You’re still legally required to use a log book, though, except it should be a National Drivers Work Diary.

Receive tailored quotes from top vehicle tracking providers

What is a National Drivers Work Diary?

The National Drivers Work Diary is a log book that heavy vehicle drivers use to track their work and rest periods. It ensures that drivers comply with the Heavy Vehicle National Law and adhere to its driver fatigue guidelines. 

It was first launched in 2013 as a Paper Work Diary, but the good news is that there’s an Electronic Work Diary (EWD) available today. Whichever you use is up to your discretion as they both perform the same function: help your drivers record their work and rest times. However, there are some notable differences between the two. 

For starters, Paper Work Diaries require a great deal of manual handling. This means that the driver must remember complicated rules and regulations to calculate their own work and rest times. On the other hand, electronic work diaries will calculate your work and break hours for you – even sending automated notifications when it’s time for a break. Additionally, paper diaries can easily be lost or damaged, unlike EWDs, which keep your data intact in the cloud.

Do I need driver log books for my fleet?

Just like a tachograph, National Drivers Work Diaries have certain requirements. All drivers who operate fatigue-regulated vehicles must adhere to anti-fatigue compliance by using a National Drivers Work Diary. Fatigue-regulated vehicles include:

  • Vehicles that weigh more than 12 tonnes
  • Buses of more than 4.5 tonnes that can carry more than 12 adults, including the driver

Aside from fatigue-regulated vehicles, the Heavy Vehicle National Law also requires you to carry a National Drivers Work Diary if you:

  • Drive more than 100km from your home base
  • Operate under basic and advanced fatigue management
  • Are a primary producer or driver for primary producers that operate fatigue-regulated vehicles more than 160km from your home base.

If you find yourself crossing over these thresholds, you may be able to benefit from route planning software, which can help you optimize your route and save on petrol costs.

However, there are a few instances that allow drivers to be exempt from this part of the law. Drivers with literacy and print media impairment may apply for an exemption permit. This permit lets them choose an alternative method of recording their work and rest times. These are then transcribed into their work diary by a nominated scribe. It must be noted that all permit applications should come with an explanation letter backing up the reason for exemption. It could be from a psychologist, speech therapist, physician, or specialist that could examine your driver’s literacy and language capabilities. 

Next steps

In a nutshell, a tachograph records the speed, distance, and travel times of your vehicles and ensures that your drivers are not driving over the recommended hours. This helpful tool prevents driver fatigue, which may lead to road accidents. It is also legally required for fleets that operate in the EU and UK. 

Fleets that operate in Australia also require a system for tracking driving hours, but instead of a tachograph, it should be the National Drivers Work Diary. This log book records driving and rest times for drivers who use fatigue-regulated trucks and buses.

Did you know that vehicle tracking systems are also helpful tools for tracking driving hours? You can use them to track your vehicles, reduce fleet costs, optimise routes, and manage driver behaviour. They can also help you protect and maintain your vehicles. Simply put, vehicle tracking systems are the upgraded versions of tachographs and work diaries. They help you log hours and maximise the efficiency of your fleet!

If you are interested in a vehicle tracking system, our free quote comparison tool can help you get started. You only have to answer a few simple questions, and we will match you up with our trusted providers. They will then get back to you with tailored quotes.

Save by comparing bespoke quotes from the best providers for you
Do you already have a vehicle tracking system?
Simply answer a few questions – it only takes a minute

Frequently asked questions

What does a tachograph do?
A tachograph device records the speed of a vehicle, the distance it has travelled, and the times it has travelled. It also tracks rest periods and availability of your drivers, ensuring your drivers adhere to recommended driving hours and stay safe on the road.

Tachographs are required by law for vehicles carrying more than 3.5 tonnes of cargo, transporting nine or more passengers (including the driver), and falling under domestic UK, EU, or AETR (International Road Transport Agreement) laws.

How long can you drive on a tachograph?
You can use a tachograph for 24 hours, however, there are a few specifications. The daily maximum limit for driving a tachograph is nine hours, although you can extend it up to 10 hours twice a week. A driver must be given at least 11 hours of uninterrupted rest each day. If a vehicle has a compliant bunk, the driver can rest while the vehicle is stationary.

Alternatively, the rest period could be divided into two parts, one of at least three hours and the other of at least nine hours. This daily rest may be reduced to only nine hours, up to three times per week. All daily rests must be completed within 24 hours of the last daily or weekly rest.

Can you drive without a tachograph?
If your fleet operates within the UK or EU, driving without a tachograph is a no-go, especially since it’s a legal requirement for every vehicle. Starting a journey without a tachograph in place can result in fines.

However, if your fleet journeys throughout Australia, you don’t need to install a tachograph device. Instead, you’re required to use a National Driver’s Work Diary to track your driver’s working hours.

What are the driving hours rules in Australia?
According to the Standard Hours of Service rules, a driver operating within Australia cannot drive for more than 12 hours in a 24-hour period. This period constitutes seven hours of continuous stationary rest time, the period spent outside of a heavy vehicle, or in an approved sleeper berth of a heavy stationary vehicle.
Written by:
Laurice first fell in love with words at seven years old. Today, she drives her passion by writing informative content about fleet management systems and vehicle tracking solutions for Expert Market. When she’s not writing, she’s indulging her profound love for all things pink or caffeine-infused.