While there is plenty of debate in the United States about the proposed mandate for the use of electronic on-board devices, the use of recorders inside cargo carrying transportation is not new. In fact, the first on-board recorder had already been introduced by the time Otto Frederick Rohwedder invented the first bread-slicing machine in 1928. German-born inventor Max Maria von Heber came out with a device in the early 1920s that would track the speed and distance a vehicle has traveled within a 24-hour period. The use of the tachograph was heralded as revolutionary and, for the last 90 years, has been used throughout the world in the transportation industry.
When the tachograph was first introduced, it was used to record rail journeys. However, with the advent of the automobile, the tachograph technology was transferred to that mode of transportation to be able to record the duration and speed of journeys, mostly by freight carriers.
The tachograph did see use in the United States in the mid-20th century, but was used mostly by fleets to track their drivers. At that time, the tachograph was an analog device which recorded the speed and distance a vehicle traveled on a wax paper disc. The disc was placed behind a dial on a unit mounted in the truck’s cab and the dial would make a complete rotation over a 24-hour period. A needle on the dial would mark the wax paper disc according to the time the truck had been in drive mode and the speed of the vehicle while in motion.
The information on the disc had to be read manually and transcribed by hand by the drivers. Tachographs were also very vulnerable to tampering, allowing drivers to fudge on the distance and time they were driving.
The use of the tachograph declined in the United States in the mid to latter portion of the 20th century, but use of the device in the European Union escalated. Tachographs became mandatory in all EU commercial vehicles in 1986 and legislation governing the use of tachographs has been updated since that time to determine new driving and rest times required of drivers. The last amendment came in 2007.
While analog tachographs were simple to alter, the influx of technology also brought about the digital tachograph. In the EU, the digital tachograph became mandatory on all vehicle manufactured after May 2006. The digital models transfer data in a file format, which can only be read and analyzed with the use of corresponding software. It makes altering the information on the tachograph much more difficult.
Much like the use of electronic on-board devices in the United States, European drivers are legally required to accurately record their activities, retain the record and produce them on demand to authorities who enforce regulations governing the transportation industry.
As well, the tachograph in the EU has much the same in the way of arguments pro and con as the United States with electronic units. Those against the use of tachographs say it puts extra pressure on drivers to complete journeys ahead of schedule and forego stopping for unscheduled breaks. Those in favor of the use of tachographs credit the device with a reduced number of accidents involving commercial vehicles and consider it a supportive tool for drivers to limit the amount of hours they are asked to work.
Author: Larry Hurrle, IT Magazine Editor