In a speech earlier this month London Mayor Boris Johnson singled out the drivers’ hours rules as the type of European legislation that he would like to see removed if the United Kingdom left the EU.

Johnson described the weight of employment regulation as “back-breaking”, citing regulations ranging from the Collective Redundancies Directive to the Working Time Directive.

“The health and safety at work framework directive, which means all businesses of whatever size have to keep written records of their risk assessments, even if it turns out the risk is nil; and the total cost of this legislation for EU-generated employment law for the UK alone for British business is estimated to be about £8.6bn a year,” he said.

“If you doubt that this stuff is over-prescriptive, let me give you just an excerpt from the summary – the summary – of the EU Driving Regulations for vehicles over 3.5 tonnes. And we are told this is now the law of the entire community…”


Johnson went on to give a brief summary of drivers’ hours rules, not the Working Time Directive as alluded to earlier in his speech stating that:

The driver must not drive more than:

- 9 hours a day – this can be extended to ten hours twice a week

- 56 hours a week

- 90 hours in any two consecutive weeks

The driver must take:

- at least 11 hours rest a day – this can be reduced to 9 hours rest 3 times a week

- an unbroken break of 45 hours every week – this can be reduced to 24 hours every other week

The diver must take:

- a weekly rest after six days of working – coach drivers on an international trip can take their weekly rest after 12 days and a break or breaks totalling at least 45 minutes after no more than 4.5 hours of driving

“You can see how that might work for big haulage firms with big HR departments and a big cost base,” Johnson rallied. “But how is it supposed to help a two-man start-up in Bexley, to pick a borough at random; that is trying to take on the big boys? How are we supposed to solve the construction boom in London and get small firms coming to the market when we have regulations like that?”

Road Haulage Association director of policy Jack Semple said he was "puzzled" by Johnson's comments.

Johnson’s speech drew the ire of many both inside and outside of the industry, not least Catherine Bearder MEP, who told "it seems Johnson is more concerned about bolstering his Eurosceptic image than the safety of Britain's roads Upholding minimum road safety standards across the EU ensures a level playing field for road users and manufacturers and prevents a dangerous race to the bottom.

"Instead of belittling pan-European safety standards, our focus should be on ensuring that these rules are enforced properly across Europe,” she stressed.

Lucy Whitaker, associate at Rothera Sharp, said she "fully agreed with" and supported both the Working Time Directive and Drivers' Hours Rules "in principle" as it is was vital to have a framework to ensure that drivers and other road users are safe.

"Whilst I do to some degree agree with Boris that the rules are perhaps “overly prescriptive”, I cannot see what the alternative is and I cannot see that he is suggesting one either," Whitaker said.

"It’s easy to criticise, but harder to come up with an alternative solution. We certainly can’t have a free-for-all where businesses and their drivers are left to decide for themselves whether or not they are too tired to drive."

She added that it would be far better if there was one simplified set of rules for professional drivers which incorporated both the drivers’ hours rules and the WTD, “so that drivers could more easily apply them”. Furthermore, Whitaker stressed, drivers also need to be made aware at the outset of their driving career of the consequences of breaking the rules and so that they would think twice about doing so. Further education of what constitutes ‘other work’ and ‘periods of availability’ is also necessary, she insisted, as well as where ‘rests’ and ‘breaks’ can legitimately be taken.


Cemex tipper

James Hookham, MD of policy at the Freight Transport Association, said that the use of the drivers’ hours rules as an example of over-prescriptive legislation was unusual, as they had been in existence since 1986.

Hookham said the objective of the driver’s hours rules was to stop drivers driving tired and, furthermore, was a central part of the substantial body of EU-derived legislation that makes truck operation and driving one of the most heavily regulated of commercial activities.

He also described Johnson’s use of the drivers hours rules for political purposes as “disingenuous” when compared to the other recent actions the Mayor has taken on truck safety: “This is same Mayor of London that has routinely scapegoated truck drivers over the numbers of collisions involving cyclists. The same Mayor of London who only two weeks ago consulted on yet further regulations for Bexley Builders and all their colleagues in the construction sector by proposing a Safer Lorry Scheme that requires trucks to be retro-fitted with additional equipment. The same Mayor of London who went personally to Brussels earlier this year to campaign with cyclists in the European Parliament for the redesign of truck cabs to improve visibility.”

However Hookham concurred with Johnson that people had the right to be “incredulous” at the “scope, detail and sheer mind-boggling complexity of the EU drivers hours regulations” but, he said: “The reality is that just about every driver of any vehicle bigger than a Transit van has to understand these requirements intimately and stick to them.”

He said that many of the exceptions and provisos in the drivers hours rules were originally included at the request of industry to permit the flexibility in driver rostering required in modern distribution operations.


“Furthermore,” Hookham added, “compliance is monitored by a precision in-cab electronic device (tachograph) that records what the driver is doing to one minute intervals. The penalties for deviation from these limits of only a few minutes is severe, culminating in a personal summons for the driver to a conduct hearing by a Traffic Commissioner and possible loss of vocational entitlement and hence employment. If Boris thinks the legislation is draconian, wait until he finds out about how it is enforced!”