When do you know if you’ve been driving too much?

Professional drivers can endure tough conditions. In a single day at the wheel of a bus or a truck, they can be driving up to thousand kilometres through half a dozen countries, braving harsh weather like storms, snow, and ice. Their bosses and their clients may well push them to get there sooner. But pushing them too far could backfire: tired drivers are more prone to have accidents. So how can we know how long drivers should spend on the road?

The European Parliament will try to answer this question today, 4th of July, when it votes in Strasbourg on three crucial issues contained in the European Commission’s May 2017 Mobility Package. The reports concern driving and rest times, as well as the posting of workers and cabotage. All are aimed at improving both the working conditions for truck drivers and the enforcement of rules that are all too often broken.

The issue has already attracted a lot of outside interest. The International Road Transport Union (IRU) says the rules could mean long-distance hauliers would have less flexibility in managing their journeys, “which would mean that drivers would be forced to rest outside their vehicle, although there is not enough safe and secure parking and rest places now and for the foreseeable future.”

The European Shippers’ Council (ESC) says it wants “a harmonised approach on issues related to drivers’ rest periods, posting of drivers, and access to the market”.

And the European Transport Federation of Workers (ETF) has complained that the vote would “mean less rest every month, with employers able to keep drivers on the road for three weeks with no more than 24 hours’ rest.”

The proposals from the Transport Committee include calls for better rest conditions for drivers: employers would have to organise their timetables so that, once every three weeks, drivers are able to return home or to another location of their choosing for a weekly rest.

The measures tie in with the range of EU social and market rules, notably a 2006 driving time regulation setting a daily driving period of no more than nine hours (with a twice-a-week exception of 10 hours); a total weekly driving time of no more than 56 hours, a daily rest period of at least 11 hours, and breaks of at least 45 minutes every 4.5 hours at least.

This time, MEPs will vote to step up inspections and roadside checks as well as to speed up cooperation between national authorities to tackle fraud related to working time, rest periods, ‘cabotage’, and posting of drivers. They will also vote on electronic documents and digital technologies being used more efficiently to help ease the burden for drivers.

The Parliament vote is finely balanced. And even if it does pass, there is no guarantee that it can achieve its aim of improving driving conditions.