If you drive a lorry, van, bus or a coach in the UK, you'll be subject to rules on the number of hours you can drive in a day, week or other period.
This guide explains those rules as well as the breaks you will need to take from driving, and daily and weekly rest periods.
There are three main sets of legislation relating to driving in:
- the European Union (EU)
- the AETR (these relate to a group of 18 countries outside the EU, mainly in southern and eastern Europe)
This article concerns only GB law.
The domestic rules will apply if you drive a van or other commercial vehicle with a maximum permitted gross weight of 3.5 tonnes or less.
They may also apply to drivers of some passenger-carrying vehicles, including public service vehicles on regular services on routes of over 50 kilometres.
The Great Britain (GB) domestic drivers' hours rules affect most drivers of commercial vehicles that are not within the scope of the EU rules.
They apply only to journeys made entirely or partly on public roads in Britain (England, Wales and Scotland). Northern Ireland has its own separate domestic rules.
You will come under the GB rules if you drive a public service vehicle (PSV) that:
- is used on regular services of 50 kilometres (30 miles) or less
- has eight or fewer passenger seats and is used on regular services within the UK of 50 km (30 miles) or more
- has eight or fewer passenger seats and is used on non-regular services, such as a tour, private hire or a commercial excursion
If you drive a goods vehicle, you will need to follow the GB drivers' hour's rules if the vehicle or vehicle combination - e.g. a van with a trailer - has a maximum permissible gross weight of 3.5 tonnes or less, and is operated entirely within Britain.
The GB rules do not apply to drivers who do not use public roads, for example, driving in connection with road improvements or road maintenance, quarrying, construction work and civil engineering works.
If you drive for fewer than four hours every day in any fixed week, you do not have to meet the drivers' hours requirement for that week. If you drive for longer than 4 hours on one or more days, the rules apply for all days in that week.
A fixed week runs from 00:00 on Sunday to 00:00 the next Sunday.
During the week, you work for a care provider, driving a minibus, picking up care patients in the morning and returning them home in the afternoons. You drive for a maximum of 90 minutes each way, so your maximum hours of work are 3 hours per day, 5 days a week. You are exempt from the GB driving rules.
As a one off job, your employer asks you whether you can drive the patients from the care centre to a tourist attraction 2 hours away. You agree. However, because your driving time for that day exceeds 4 hours (2 hours each way, plus the time to pick up and drop off each patient), for that week you are no longer exempt from the regulations.
You are allowed to break the regulations if you need to take immediate action to avoid:
- danger to the life of people or animals
- serious interruption of essential public services (gas, water, electricity and drainage), of telecommunication or postal services, or in the use of roads, railways, ports or airports
- serious damage to property
Under the GB regulations you are allowed to drive for a maximum of ten hours in any 24-hour period.
The definition of driving is being at the controls of a vehicle for the purposes of controlling its movement with the engine running. This applies whether it is moving or stationary. The total amount of time you are permitted to be 'on duty' for in the same 24-hour period, is 11 hours.
If you are a driver employed in a company or the director of a limited company, 'on duty' is defined as any working time, for example, sweeping the yard, answering the phone or loading and unloading.
If you are a self-employed driver, 'on duty' means driving the vehicle or carrying out any other work in connection with the vehicle or its load. Answering the phone or sweeping the yard would not count as time on duty, but cleaning a van or loading it up would be. Note that if you drive for fewer than four hours in a day, there are no restrictions on duty time.
The Working Time Regulations 1998 will apply to you if you drive under the GB rules.
These regulations set a maximum 48-hour working week, a right to 4.8 weeks of annual leave, and also a right to health checks and adequate rest.
Domestic driving limits apply to drivers and operators of both goods and passenger carrying vehicles.
For drivers of goods vehicles, to comply with the regulations, you must ensure that in any working day:
- the maximum amount of driving you do is ten hours
- your maximum amount of duty time is eleven hours
If you drive passenger vehicles, to comply with the GB rules you must:
- Take a break of at least 30 minutes when you have been driving for 5.5 hours. Alternatively, within a period of 8.5 hours, you must take breaks that add up to at least 45 minutes. This is so that you are not driving for more than seven hours and 45 minutes. You must take an additional break of 30 minutes at the end of this period to get refreshments, unless it is the end of the day.
- Ensure that in any working day the maximum amount of driving is ten hours. You should also make sure that you should work no more than 16 hours between the times of starting and finishing work.
- Take a continuous rest of ten hours between two consecutive working days. You can reduce this to 8.5 hours up to three times a week.
- Have at least one period of 24 hours off duty in any two consecutive weeks.
If you drive a passenger-carrying vehicle you do not have to keep records of your working hours.
Drivers of goods vehicles with a maximum permitted gross weight of more than 3.5 tonnes must keep records for any day on which they:
- Drive for more than four hours
- Drive outside a 50 kilometres (30 mile) radius of the vehicle's operating centre
You can do this either by making entries on a record sheet, or by using an approved and sealed tachograph. If you are a driver working for an operator, the operator will need to check and sign each weekly record sheet.
When recording using a tachograph, and where domestic records are legally required, you must comply with all rules on the fitment and use of the tachographs.
Where a tachograph is fitted to a vehicle that must follow the domestic rules but is not used for legally required records, the operator and driver should still make sure that it is properly calibrated and sealed.
If a court finds you guilty of breaking the regulations, you may face a fine or even imprisonment.
You may be allowed to break the daily and duty limits if you have to deal with an emergency.