Digital tachographs and smartcards
By Dan Isaaman, Technical Director, Smartcard Focus

Tachographs are fitted to large vehicles in order to record speed, distance and driver activities, so that various legal restrictions on drivers and owners can be enforced. Traditional analogue tachographs record information on a paper disc that rotates over time, and this can be later examined visually, or scanned by computer for a more detailed analysis. Digital tachographs are now being introduced around the world – for example a European-wide scheme has been developed, and all new vehicles must now be fitted with a digital tachograph. Over time, it is expected that this new technology may be retro-fitted to older vehicles, and extended to smaller vehicles such as vans, minibuses and taxis.

The use of smartcards
The European digital tachograph scheme uses smartcards to record individual driver activity data. These cards are personal to the driver, and are issued by the local country’s licensing authority. The digital tachograph equipment installed in the vehicle is known as the vehicle unit (VU) and the driver inserts their card into the VU at the start of their working day or shift. While working, the driver can indicate the type of activity they are undertaking – such as driving, resting or other work (such as loading/unloading.) The vehicle unit measures various parameters such as speed, distance and time, and records all of this data internally, but it also records similar information to the driver’s card.

Thus each driver carries around a record of their personal activity, in their smartcard, while each vehicle also carries around a record of the vehicle’s movements, irrespective of whether it was driven by one or many drivers. The European scheme also provides for other types of smartcard that are used for administrative purposes. For instance, a ‘company card’ is used to control access to the data stored in the vehicle unit, and a ‘workshop card’ is used for tachograph calibration.

Downloading, viewing and analysing data
There are various ways in which digital tachograph data can be viewed and analysed. For a start, activity reports can be printed directly by the vehicle unit, on ‘tally roll’ paper. Although very limited, this is useful as a ‘last resort’, for instance in the case where a driver has forgotten their driver’s smartcard. Apart from this, extra hardware is required to read data from either the vehicle unit and the driver’s card:
  • A VU download device – this device plugs into the vehicle unit and transfers the stored vehicle data, usually into some form of ‘memory stick’ so that it can be copied onto a PC. Each vehicle unit has sufficient internal memory to store up to a year’s worth of tachograph information, so the download process does not have to be done very often.

  • A smartcard reader – this device typically plugs into a PC and provides a slot into which drivers’ cards can be inserted. Unlike memory sticks, smartcards need specific software to enable transferring of data, and in the case of digital tachographs there are very specific standards and requirements on how the data should be downloaded and stored. Indeed, the file format for the data is standardised by a European Union regulation, so that files downloaded from drivers’ cards are guaranteed to be compatible, irrespective of the software used to download or analyse them. However, it should be noted that these files are not ‘human readable’ as they contain the activity data in a special, tamper-proof, electronic format.
Typically, a vehicle operator will wish to either view and analyse their drivers’ activity data themselves, to ensure that they are complying with various laws such as the Working Time Directive and Driver Hours law, or they will use an outside company or bureau to do this for them. Smaller operators, including owner/drivers, are still required to abide by various regulations, not least the requirement to store their downloaded smartcard data for a minimum period, usually one year.

Software to perform these tasks therefore falls into three main categories:
  • Simple download and view – these solutions are aimed at meeting the minimum legal requirements imposed on vehicle owners and drivers, and are typically provided as a stand-alone PC-based solution complete with a smartcard reader. The software will normally download the data from any number of driver’s cards, and store it in the required format. In addition, simple screens and reports showing driver activities can be generated. Because these are based on the individual data files, and thus only the data stored from the few weeks before it was downloaded, there will be no ability to report over flexible date ranges or multiple drivers, or to look through driver activity data for breaches of working time laws. Simple download software can, however, also be used to collect the raw data files from one or many locations, and to pass this data on to other software solutions, or to analysis bureaux, for further processing.

  • PC-based analysis – these solutions typically comprise various software modules that can be used to both download and fully analyse data collected from driver’s smartcards. PC-based analysis solutions are typically installed on one or more PCs within an organisation, and will use a database server to store all of the downloaded information, so that complex analysis and reporting can be performed.

  • Online analysis – these solutions typically comprise a very simple download tool that reads data from the driver’s card and sends this electronically to a remote server on the internet. Users will then have access to this server and can produce various reports via a standard web browser. This kind of solution requires minimal software or hardware infrastructure at the operator, and all data storage and analysis software is hosted centrally by a third party.
Products and solutions
Smartcard Focus provides various products aimed both at end users and at software or service providers in the digital tachograph industry. These include:
  • Omnikey CM3121 USB smartcard reader – this has become the most popular smartcard reader for use with desktop PCs, and has been installed widely across the UK and Europe for tachograph data downloading. Smartcard Focus is the UK and European distributor for this product, and can therefore supply readers in any volume to transport operators and to tachograph software and service providers.

  • EasyTac downloader – this software package is a simple download and view solution that has been put together specifically by Smartcard Focus. It can be purchased complete with a CM3121 USB smartcard reader, or on its own, so that it can be used with any other compatible smartcard reader.
Please see our tachograph shop for more details.

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