THE ONE MINUTE RULE
New regulations and new technical standards have been introduced to prevent tampering by drivers. The new "one minute rule" came into force on 1 October and the new devices will be installed in newly registered trucks starting 1 October 2012
But let's start with the regulation that came into force on 1 October 2011 with the introduction of the new "one minute rule". On the old tachographs, every second of driving was automatically calculated as one minute. But with the new ones, it is the longest activity during one minute that will be calculated. In other words, it takes more than 30 seconds to trip one minute of driving: a fairly substantial change given that it will save up to 30 minutes of driving a day, especially for firms with frequent stop-and-go, like those that work in ports or at large-scale-distribution logistics platforms. But wait: if the old minute rule is retiring, the 3 minute rule is not; according to it, a 60 second stop during two driving periods of more than one minute is automatically counted as driving time.
From 1 October 2012, the tachographs mounted on newly-registered trucks will have other safety devices. This is the eternal battle between tachographs and the tampering devices that allow drivers to continue driving beyond the legal limit. It's a story that began many years ago and is worth recounting. In 2006, when the introduction of the digital tachographs sent the old analogue "disc" into retirement, the technicians who had designed the new device were certain: "Tampering is impossible", they swore. We know how that ended: truckers were targeted by TV programmes like Annozero and Striscia la Notizia. "In reality, it's unlikely that the device itself can be tampered with", explained Lorenzo Ottolina, manager of the Tachographs, Telematics & Services division of VDO (Continental group), one of the major producers of tachographs. "What is still vulnerable is everything outside the tachograph, in other words the circuit that connects it to the movement sensor". Paradoxically, Regulation 561/2006 "made it even more vulnerable by removing all the seals and steel cladding around the cable that protected the analogue tachographs. There was no need for them, they thought: the digital device records every break in the wires making them easily revealed during controls". What they did not take into consideration was that the system "can be manipulated simply by cutting off the power supply from the battery. This operation is also recorded on digital tachographs, but it is totally legal during vehicle maintenance". So the manipulators intervened: "More often than not" - Ottolina continued - "they are electronics enthusiasts who put together kits complete with instructions and then sell them to road transport firms intent on breaking the law". The application of this device endangers the safety of road users - truckers as well as car drivers - apart from the fact that it leads to unfair competition in an already run-down Italian road transport market. Moreover: according to VDO, "as well as being illegal, it is also detrimental. It changes the calculation of the miles actually travelled by the vehicle, resulting in the incorrect management of vehicle maintenance work. Specific analyses at repair shops authorized by vehicle manufacturers can show the difference between the miles calculated by the drive wheels (where the tachograph transmitter is installed) and those by the front wheels, which invalidates any work under guarantee or any scheduled maintenance on the vehicle".
But how is this tampering done? In most cases, it's done with a magnet mounted near the movement sensor next to the gearbox. "When the permitted driving time has come to an end" - Ottolina explained - "the driver uses a key to activate the magnet that tricks the tachograph into showing that the vehicle is stationary rather than mobile. If there are any police checks, the driver pulls a cord and the magnet drops onto the road just before he stops. And everything appears to be normal". But wait: this is just the simplest method. "It's prehistoric now", Ottolina point out. In fact, law enforcement officials "place an iron filing on the gearbox to find out if a magnet had been attached to the surface shortly before". "So rogue operators began to use a solenoid that would change the magnetic field". But this was very inconvenient: "Unlike the old magnet, the solenoid could not be released with a cord. So the driver was forced to remove it manually, perhaps by making up some excuse; moreover, the magnetic signal was shown on the tachograph as sharp, abnormal travel from 90 to 0 km/h or vice-versa". The systems have been so packed with speed reducers as to make falsified truck stops more progressive. Not to mention the activation keys that are hidden in the most unthinkable places or even mounted into a remote control.
Increasingly sophisticated tampering to which the European Union responded by establishing new technical standards that will come into force in 2012. "There are two main additions. A new input signal independent of the movement sensor will be introduced to the tachograph. It can be mounted on the ABS, the EBS or on the axles: the tachograph will then be able to verify that both signals perfectly correspond and will show any anomalies. This will make it more difficult to tamper with the two signals in exactly the same way; one signal - the new one - will also be controlled from the truck power unit".
The second new addition is a speed sensor with more protection from magnetic fields: "The transmitter must be contained in an antimagnetic casing that will resist falsified signals from rogue devices".
Will these two devices be enough? "Experience suggests prudence", Ottolina replied. "But the hope is that these new devices, more checks by enforcement agencies and, above all, a little public spirit will be enough to discourage the phenomenon.