Small Goods and Passenger Vehicles: the Law on Drivers’ Hours (UK)

Many people drive vehicles in the UK for a living. These workers range from drivers of goods vehicles, bus and coach drivers, to courier drivers and taxi drivers. The Working Time Regulations 1998 sets out the requirements for drivers of vans or other commercial vehicle with a maximum permitted gross weight of 3.5 tonnes; and drivers of some passenger-carrying vehicles with no more than 8 passenger seats. This includes public service vehicles on regular services on routes of more than 50 kilometres.

What are the rules?

The Working Time Regulations govern how many hours an individual employee can work in the UK, and specific requirements about breaks, including:

  • An employed driver is permitted to drive for a maximum of 10 hours in any 24-hour period
  • The total amount of time an employee is permitted to be on duty during a 24-hour period is 11 hours

They also have the right to 4.8 weeks’ annual leave and the right to health checks.

What is ‘driving’ for the purposes of the Regulations?

An individual is deemed to be driving a vehicle when they are at the controls of a vehicle for the purposes of controlling its movement with the engine running. This applies even if the vehicle is stationary.

What is meant by being ‘on duty’?

Being on duty depends on the individual’s role and the type of employer. If the driver is employed by a company or the director of a limited company, ‘on duty’ is defined as any working time – which includes talking on the telephone or any other general duty of their employment.

If a driver is self employed, ‘on duty’ means driving the vehicle or undertaking any work in connection with the vehicle or its load. General employment duties such as taking phone calls, will not amount to being on duty, but loading up a van will. However, there is no restriction placed on them in relation to duty time for individual drivers who drive for less than four hours a day

Different Vehicles

In some respects, the requirements under the Regulations affect drivers of goods vehicles and passenger vehicles differently.

Drivers of goods vehicles

Drivers of goods vehicles must ensure that:

  • the maximum amount of driving they undertake in any working day is 10 hours
  • the maximum amount of duty time in any working day is 11 hours

Drivers of passenger vehicles

Drivers of passenger vehicles must:

  • ensure they take a break of at least 30 minutes when they have been driving for a total of 5.5 hours, or
  • take a break of at least 45 minutes within a period of driving of 8.5 hours (to ensure they drive for no longer than a period of 7 hours and 45 minutes)
  • ensure that in any working day the maximum amount of driving undertaken is 10 hours
  • ensure they do not work more than 16 hours between the times of starting and finishing work
  • ensure they take a continuous rest of 10 hours between two consecutive working days (this can be reduced to 8.5 hours up to three times a week)
  • ensure they have at least one period of at least 24 hours off in any two consecutive weeks

Keeping a Log

Must drivers keep a record of the number of hours they drive?

A driver of a passenger carrying vehicle who drives within the above permitted number of hours does not have to keep a record of the hours they have driven.

What are the penalties for non-compliance?

If anyone is found to have breached the Regulations, they could face an employment claim, and in serious cases, criminal proceedings.

From March 2018, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) traffic examiners can issue on-the-spot fines for an offence relating to commercial drivers’ hours committed in the last 28 days. This could result in fines of up to £1,500 in a single check.

Are there any exceptions to the rules or defences to a breach?

The Regulations may be broken in the following circumstances:

  • Where there is danger to the life of people or animals
  • Where there is serious interruption of essential public services such as gas, water, electricity and drainage
  • Where there is serious interruption of postal or telecommunication services
  • Where there is serious interruption in the use of road, railways, ports or airports
  • Where there is serious damage to property
Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A non-practising solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.