VOSA has now launched a concerted awareness campaign to tackle the growing problem of drivers' attaching small but very powerful magnets to their vehicles to allow them to falsify tachograph readings.
Since 8th August 2011 VOSA, along with the police, have been distributing leaflets at the roadside to drivers of all nationalities.
VOSA's head of intelligence, Phil Stokes, says: "Over the last few years, the alarming use of magnets by HGV drivers has risen rapidly. With one in six motorway deaths being the result of someone falling asleep while driving, we all know why it is such a dangerous activity. Tired drivers cause accidents and kill people.
“Our message to drivers of all nationalities is: 'don't be tempted'."
Steve Williams of Truck UK said "It's good to see that VOSA are targeting this totally unacceptable practice. I first heard about this over two years ago and when I investigated how the 'scam' works I was amazed at how easy it is for tachographs to be tampered with, simply by attaching a small magnet to the vehicle.
The use of magnets not only allows the driver and therefore the operator to keep a false record, it can affect both the gearbox and the braking system of the truck. So, if a driver is found using this type of device to get round the rules they need the book thrown at them. What's more, if an operator is turning a blind eye as well then they shouldn't be allowed to continue trading. They're not only operating at an unfair commercial advantage in comparison to compliant operators', they're putting everyone that comes close to that truck at risk of injury and possibly death"
In 2010, VOSA recorded 438 cases of drivers falsifying tachograph records - many of which were by way of using a magnet.
Aside from the risk of causing a catastrophic accident, VOSA points out that there’s also very stiff penalties to face if a truck driver is caught using a magnet.
Drivers should be aware of the fact that using a magnet is falsifying a record which carries with it a maximum penalty of
£5,000 and two years imprisonment - and almost certainly the loss of their vocational licence when they come in front of a Traffic Commissioner. It's no excuse to blame the boss for pushing them. Both the driver and the operator will be treated as operating illegally.
In June of this year David Lewis, sole director and operator of DA Lewis UPVC Installations Limited, had his Operator licence revoked by the Welsh Traffic Area Traffic Commissioner, Nick Jones.
Furthermore, the TC decided that Lewis was no longer of good repute and he disqualified him from holding an O-licence for a period of 18 months. His company had been authorised for five vehicles and five trailers.
In a separate driver conduct hearing, the TC also revoked Lewis's vocational driving licence and disqualified him from holding a vocational licence for 12 months.
Lewis had been stopped during a routine VOSA check at the Membury service station on the M4. A VOSA vehicle examiner discovered that a magnet preventing the proper recording of drivers' hours had been attached to the sender unit. Lewis told the examiner he put the magnet on the sender unit when in North Kent.
The discovery of the magnet also resulted in both roadside prohibitions and a conviction for Lewis.
At the time the TC described the use of the magnet as "wholly unacceptable", adding: "The use of magnets is a practice that is intended to deceive and goes to the very heart of the relationship of trust.
"In my judgment, the use of a magnet by a driver or an operator must be seen by operators and drivers as rendering the strongest regulatory action as inevitable."