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The Tachograph Chart
Analogue Tachograph
Digital Tachograph
German Driver Card, front side (2007)
German Driver Card, rear side

A tachograph is a device fitted to a vehicle that automatically records its speed and distance, together with the driver's activity selected from a choice of modes. The drive mode is activated automatically when the vehicle is in motion, and modern tachograph heads usually default to the other work mode upon coming to rest. The rest and availability modes can be manually selected by the driver whilst stationary.

A tachograph system comprises a sender unit mounted to the vehicle gearbox, the tachograph head and a recording medium. Tachograph heads are of either analogue or digital types. All relevant vehicles manufactured since 1 May 2006 must be fitted with digital tachograph heads. The recording medium for analogue heads are wax coated paper discs, and for digital heads are digital driver cards containing a microchip with flash memory. Digital driver cards store data as a .ddd file that can be imported into tachograph analysis software.

Drivers are legally required to accurately record their activities, retain the records and produce them on demand to transport authorities who are charged with enforcing regulations governing drivers' working hours.

They are also used in the maritime world, for example through the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine.


  • Origins 1
  • Regulations 2
    • In Germany (historic) 2.1
    • In the EU 2.2
  • The analogue tachograph 3
    • The analogue chart (EU) 3.1
  • Analogue tachograph head models available in the EU 4
    • Veeder Root and Stoneridge models 4.1
    • VDO Models 4.2
    • Motometer models 4.3
    • Jaegar models 4.4
    • Actia models 4.5
    • Sara Electronique models 4.6
  • Introduction of the digital tachograph in the EU 5
  • Its use in accident investigation 6
  • Tampering 7
  • Tachograph arguments 8
    • The case against tachographs 8.1
    • The case for tachographs 8.2
  • See also 9
  • Further reading 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12


The tachograph was originally introduced for the railroads so that companies could better document irregularities. The inventor was Max Maria von Weber, a civil servant, engineer and author. The Hasler Event recorder was introduced in the 1920s.


For reasons of public safety, many jurisdictions have limits on the working hours of drivers of certain vehicles, such as buses and trucks. A tachograph can be used to monitor this and ensure that appropriate breaks are taken.

In Germany (historic)

The Verkehrs-Sicherungs-Gesetz (German Traffic Safety Law) of 19 December 1952, made tachographs mandatory in Germany for all commercial vehicles weighing over 7.5 tonnes. Since 23 March and 23 December 1953, all new commercial vehicles and buses must be equipped with the device per law Straßenverkehrs-Zulassungs-Ordnung § 57a.

Tachographs are mandatory for vehicles allowed to carry a total weight of over 3.5 tonnes and vehicles built to carry at least 9 passengers, if the vehicle is used for commercial purposes. They are used to review the driving and rest time of drivers during reviews by traffic standards organizations or accident investigation. A driver must carry the tachograph records with him for all days of the current week and the last day of the previous week that he drove. Companies must keep the records for 1 year. In Germany, § 16 of the work time regulations lengthens this time to 2 years if the records will be used as proof of work time.

In the EU

EEC regulation 3821/85[1] from 20 December 1985 made tachographs mandatory throughout the EEC as of 29 September 1986.(Regulation 1463/70 amended by regulation 2828/77 made tachographs mandatory by 1 July 1979, reference to these regulations can be found in regulation 3821/85).

A "European arrangement in regard to the work of driving personnel engaged in international traffic" (AETR, from French "Accord Européen sur les Transports Routiers") became effective on 31 July 1985.

Regulation 561/2006/EC of the European Union adopted on 11 April 2007[2] specified the driving and rest times of professional drivers. These time periods can be checked by the employers, police and other authorities with the help of the tachograph.

The analogue tachograph

Most tachographs produced prior to 1 May 2006 were of the analogue type. Later analogue tachograph head models are of a modular design, enabling the head to fit into a standard DIN slot in the vehicle dashboard. This would enable a relatively easy upgrade to the forthcoming digital models, that were manufactured to the same physical dimensions.

The analogue tachograph head uses styli to trace lines on a wax coated paper disc that rotates throughout the day, where one rotation encompasses a 24-hour period. If the disc is left in the head over 24 hours, a second trace will be written onto the first, and so on until the disc is removed. It is an infringement of EU Regulation 561/2006 to use a disc for a period longer than it is designed for. Multiple overlapping traces may still be deciphered in the speed and distance fields, but it is far more difficult for the activity field where one trace can easily be obliterated by another. Analogue tachograph heads provide no indication to the driver of the need to change the disc.

Analogue data is retrieved visually, and can be assisted by manual analysis tools. Analogue discs can also be electronically scanned and analysed by computer, although this analogue to digital conversion process still requires human expert interpretation for best results, due to imperfections in the source disc such as dirt and scratch marks in the wax surface that can be incorrectly read as trace marks.

The analogue chart (EU)

The analogue chart must be EU type approved. The country of type approval can be found on the rear of the chart, i.e. a mark of E11 would indicate the chart to have been approved in the UK for use in the EU. The chart is manufactured out of heavyweight paper with a black printed face that is thinly coated with a white wax, upon which is printed a number of features. The surface can be scratched or rubbed to reveal the black paper underneath. This enables the traces to be made without the use of ink. The chart features a pear-shaped aperture in the centre, ensuring it is perfectly aligned upon insertion into the tachograph head. There is no facility to prevent it being inserted back to front, where the styli would be prevented from making contact with the wax surface.

The centrefield is used by the driver to store certain handwritten information. This includes the drivers name, the date(s) the disc refers to, the start and end odometer readings and the registration mark of the vehicle.

Three traces are made in the wax surface by the head. These traces are either made by three separate styli or a single multipurpose stylus.

The trace closest to the centrefield is the distance trace. The stylus moves up and down with distance travelled, producing a zig-zag pattern, often referred to as a 'V' trace. A complete deflection is created every 5 kilometres, and therefore each completed 'V' represents 10 kilometres travelled. By counting the zig-zags, the total distance travelled can be calculated and compared against the stated odometer readings in the centrefield. By comparing the end position of the trace for a particular day against the start position for the following day, it can be seen if the vehicle has moved in the intermediate period.

The trace in the central area is the mode trace. The driver's activity is displayed in this area, and is always displayed as either drive, other work, availability or rest. Earlier tachograph heads displayed the mode as a thin line in one of four concentric tracks within the activity band. These heads are known as manual heads as the activity was manually selected using the mode switch. Automatic heads succeeded manual heads, and differ from them in two main areas. Firstly, the automatic head will always display the drive mode when the vehicle is in motion, regardless of the setting of the mode switch. For this reason, the drive mode is no longer available to be selected by the mode switch. Secondly, the activity is displayed on the chart as a sequence of block traces of differing thickness. The rest mode appears as a thin line, availability as a slightly thicker line, other work as slightly thicker again and the drive trace being the thickest.

The trace closest to the outer edge is the speed trace. The disc is preprinted with a speed scale and the stylus produces a mark corresponding with the speed of the vehicle at any given time. It is important that the maximum speed (Vmax) specification of the chart matches that of the tachograph head for the speed to be correctly recorded. It can be expected that a high speed trace will correlate with a tightly-spaced zig-zag pattern within the distance trace.

The disc is preprinted with a 24-hour scale that completes the outer circumference.

The rear face of the chart is printed with a grid that enables the driver to make handwritten additions or amendments to the information on the front.

Analogue tachograph head models available in the EU

Veeder Root and Stoneridge models

Veeder Root 1111

Veeder Root 1200 series

Veeder Root 1400 series

Veeder Root 8300 series

Veeder Root 8400 series

Veeder Root 2400 series (modular)

VDO Models

VDO MTCO 1324 (modular)

VDO Digital Tachographs:


VDO DTCO rel. 2.1

VDO DTCO rel. 2.2

VDO Universal DTCO 1381

Motometer models


Jaegar models

Jaegar G50

Actia models

Actia FirsTach

Actia Poltik 028

Sara Electronique models


Introduction of the digital tachograph in the EU

Digital tachographs make tampering much more difficult by sending signals in an encrypted manner. EU regulation 1360/2002 makes digital tachographs mandatory for all vehicles described in the above section Regulations and manufactured after 1 August 2005. Digital tachographs have been required as of 1 May 2006 for all new vehicles for which EWG regulation VO(EWG)3820/85 applies, as was published in the official newsletter of the European Union L102 from 11 April 2006.

Digital tachographs have been implemented in Mexico since 1994, but this is not a federal regulation. The last implementations developed in Mexico have GPS capabilities such as mapping, altitude and location-activated video triggering.

Its use in accident investigation

Apart from enforcing regulations, tachographs are often used in Germany to investigate and punish speeding. This practice was approved by the German high regional court in the 1990s. Also, after an accident, the discs are often examined with a microscope to discover the events that took place at a collision site.


Tachographs can be tampered with in various ways, such as slightly twisting the marker, blocking the path of the arm with a piece of rubber or foam, short-circuiting the unit for short periods, or interrupting the (older analogue) tachograph's power supply with a blown

Ghosting is another common trick when false driver information is entered onto a second chart to give the appearance that there is a second driver present in the cab for long distance runs that cannot be completed within a single driver's daily driving period.

Tachograph arguments

The case against tachographs

When the use of tachographs was imposed by the European Union on its member states in the 1980s, governments and operating companies were opposed on the grounds that tachographs were expensive and unnecessary, and contributed nothing to road safety. Domestic hours regulations were replaced by European regulations which were complicated. Opponents claimed that it was doubtful whether strict enforcement of these regulations would reduce driver fatigue since they were not based on scientific evidence.

Drivers and their trade unions initially opposed the use of tachographs because they feared that employers would examine the records and reduce the driver's pay for any time stopped, even if the stop was for a good reason, such as checking the vehicle or going to the toilet. This would encourage tired drivers to continue driving rather than rest, and encourage drivers to exceed speed limits in order to reach their destination within the required time.

In some countries, fines to foreign drivers are imposed on the spot, and the drivers may not leave until the fine is paid. In other countries, the driver is required to pay within a time limit. Since collection of fines does not work over the borders, a foreign driver can throw away the demand documents, making the tachograph system less meaningful. The EU is negotiating a system where fines received in an EU country are payable in the home country.

The case for tachographs

Today operators see tachographs as levellers—devices which prevent unfair competition from companies who force their drivers to work excessive hours. Trade unions and drivers also now favour tachographs for this reason and records are often used in tribunals as proof when claiming for unpaid work.

Tachographs are also useful after an accident to help establish the cause and corroborate eye witness accounts. Trade unions take a dim view of anyone who exceeds speed limits or permitted hours.

Fears that it is easy to falsify readings by tampering with tachographs have been allayed, since it is relatively easy to spot such attempts. However, more sophisticated ways to interrupt the signals sent to the digital tachograph have since been created, including the use of magnets. In the UK, DVSA & the police have stepped up their enforcement activities and drivers found to be using a magnet, or any other method, to falsify their drivers hours records are now facing prohibition & fixed penalty notices and/or arrest.

Tachograph data, once correlated, provides valuable data to the haulage company. For instance, efficiency of driver and vehicle use, driver shift patterns, compliance with internal policy, payment of agency drivers, proof of collection/delivery times, etc.

See also

Further reading

  • Armin Müller: Kienzle. Ein deutsches Industrieunternehmen im 20. Jahrhundert, second edition, Franz Steiner Verlag: Stuttgart 2014, ISBN 978-3-515-10669-6

German Book about the invention of the tachograph and the history of the main proucer/ seller Kienzle Apparate GmbH (today VDO).


  1. ^ EUR-Lex – 31985R3821 – EN
  2. ^ Regulation (EC) No 561/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of March 15, 2006 on the harmonisation of certain social legislation relating to road transport and amending Council Regulations (EEC) No 3821/85 and (EC) No 2135/98 and repealing Council Regulation (EEC) No 3820/85

External links

  • German Web portal to the Corporate History of Kienzle Apparate
  • Using tachographs – Business Link UK.
  • Drivers' Guides to Digital & Analogue Tachographs – Tachomaster.

Media related to at Wikimedia Commons

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