The government has relaxed EU drivers’ hours rules in England, Scotland and Wales for hauliers involved in the delivery of food and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals.

The relaxation also affects deliveries of personal care, household paper and cleaning products.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said this “temporary, limited and urgent relaxation” affected drivers when undertaking journeys from distribution to stores or fulfilment centres; from manufacturers or suppliers to distribution centres (including backhauls) and stores; between distribution centres and transport hub trunking, as well as transport hub deliveries to stores.

The DfT said it does not apply to drivers undertaking deliveries directly to consumers.

The exemption, which is now in place, runs until 23:59 on Thursday 16 April.

It added that driver safety must not be compromised and drivers should not be expected to drive while tired.

The rules can be relaxed by replacing the daily driving limit of nine hours with 11 hours; by reducing the daily rest requirements from 11 to nine hours and raising the weekly and fortnightly driving limits from 56 and 90 hours to 60 and 96 hours respectively.

In addition, the DfT added that companies can postpone the requirement to start a weekly rest period after six 24-hour periods to after seven 24-hour periods – although two regular weekly rest periods, or a regular and a reduced weekly rest period, will still be required within a fortnight.

However, drivers must not use this last relaxation at the same time as replacing daily driving limits with 11 hours.

Finally, the requirement for a break of 45 minutes after four and a half hours driving can now be replaced with a 45-minute rest after five and a half hours.

In a statement, the DfT said: “The drivers in question must note on the back of their tachograph charts or printouts the reasons why they are exceeding the normally permitted limits.

“This is usual practice in emergencies and is, of course, essential for enforcement purposes.

“The temporary relaxation of the rules described above reflects the exceptional circumstances stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The department wishes to emphasise that, as a general rule, we expect business to plan for and manage the risks of disruption to supply chains.”