Drivers’ hours – stay legal

Photography by Nigel Green at
Photography by Nigel Green at’ hours – stay legal

Drivers hours – stay legal

How many hours is a professional lorry driver allowed to drive?

The question seems entirely reasonable, especially since any transgression may attract a fixed penalty fine or a summons to court. By breaking the rules you are not only committing an offence but also running the risk of your lorry haulage insurance becoming invalid.

But the rules are anything but straight forward and vary depending on the type of vehicle being driven and the country where it is being driven. The most authoritative source for an explanation of the rule is the government website:

Driving in the UK

  • the maximum daily limit behind the wheel driving on a public road within the UK is 10 hours;
  • if you are driving off-road, the hours are classified as “duty time”;
  • duty time comprises any hours you are working for an employer, or, if you are self-employed, those hours when you are driving or working on the vehicle or its load;
  • there is a maximum limit of 11 hours of duty time in any working day;
  • hours must be recorded either on a tachograph or other record sheet

Driving in the EU

  • these are the rules to which many operators adhere – this is playing it safe to an extent, since these rules tend to be somewhat more restricted than those applying to purely domestic operations;
  • the EU rules are no simpler, however;
  • the EU rules are now identical to those previously defined by the European Agreement Concerning the Work of Crews of Vehicles Engaged in International Road Transport (AETR) – the sheer length of the title of this agreement is enough to have seen it subsumed under the general EU regulations;
  • under EU rules the maximum driving hours in any one day are 9 hours – but these may be extended to 10 hours two times each week;
  • no more than 56 hours may be spent at the wheel in any one week;
  • no more than 90 hours may be spent behind the wheel in any two weeks;
  • drivers must take at least 11 hours rest each day – or 3 sessions of just 9 hours rest between any two “weekly rest” periods;
  • a continuous period of 45 hours rest each week;
  • weekly rest periods must be taken after 6 consecutive working days starting from the end of the previous such weekly rest period;
  • after any period of 4.5 hours of driving a rest break of at least 45 minutes must be taken;
  • in an attempt to simplify what are some pretty complicated rules the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSPA) has published a leaflet summarising the main points about driving hours, breaks and rest periods; and
  • working hours must be recorded by tachograph.

Overall, it is confusing to have different sets of rules that apply to drivers’ hours whether they are working in the UK or within the EU. The confusion is heightened by the sheer detail and complexity of the EU rules in particular. To make matters still more confusing, for example, the rules on driving hours and rest breaks may be broken in an emergency in order to protect others’ safety, the vehicle or its load.