GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN. While potential changes, or non-changes, to U.S. driver hours-of-service regulations are likely to be met with frustration and possibly lawsuits, European truck drivers work under very strict European Union (EU) hours-of-service (HOS) rules that go several steps further than anything in the U.S.
Under current European law, any driver operating a 12 ton or higher vehicle is subject to the laws, which limit driving to 9 hours per day, 56 in a week, and 90 over a two-week period. Twice a week, driving time can be extended to 10 hours.
In addition, there are mandatory 45-minute break periods for each 4.5 hours of driving, and a new 4.5-hour period does not begin until a full 45 minutes of rest time has been accomplished.
The law does allow, however, for that break period to be split up in increments, providing that the first break is 15 minutes and the second break period 30 minutes. Breaks of less than 15 minutes do not count.
“A driver wipes the slate clean if he takes a 45-minute break or qualifying breaks totaling 45 minutes before or at the end of a 4.5-hour driving period,” the law states. “This means that the next 4.5-hour driving period begins with the completion of that qualifying break, and in assessing break requirements for the new 4.5-hour period, no reference is to be made to driving time accumulated before this point.”
There is also a daily 11-hour rest period mandated, and that too is particularly strict.
“A rest is an uninterrupted period where a driver may freely dispose of his time,” according to the law. “Time spent working in other employment or under obligation or instruction, regardless of the occupation type, cannot be counted as rest, including work where you are self-employed.”
For truckers and fleet managers alike in Sweden, though, the hour restrictions are really just a fact of life.
“The driving hours are the driver’s responsibility,” said Johan Sundberg, owner of Sundbergs Akeri AB, a timber hauler based in Kalleryd, Sweden, “but if they break the law, I can be held responsible.”
Sundberg told Fleet Owner that his nine Volvo FH 540 tractors are equipped with an onboard system that tracks the driver’s hours in real-time, displaying that information on the dash. This allows each driver to see available hours before mandated break periods.
Weekly rest periods are mandated as well, coming at the conclusion of six consecutive 24-hour periods. The weekly rest period must be at least 45 consecutive hours.
In rare occasions, drivers are allowed to reduce the weekly rest period to 33 hours, however, they must “compensate for this by attaching a 12-hour period of rest to another rest period of at least 9 hours before the end of week four.”
For instance, a driver who takes a 33-hour weekly rest in week 1, can take 45 hours in week 2 and 45 hours week 3, but then 57 hours no later than in week 4.
The EU enforces these laws through the use of driver’s cards, which include an embedded microchip.
Each time a driver gets in a vehicle for driving or completes driving for the day, he swipes his card and the chip records the time. The data is stored for one year, allowing law enforcement to download the data at any time and see up to one year’s worth of a driving log and whether any violation may have occurred.