Smart cards get heavy with goods vehicles

Tachographs are getting hi-tech, with digital certificates and smart cards replacing the old paper disk systems

Smart cards and digital signatures are to be introduced in heavy goods vehicles and buses by next summer, to comply with new EU rules designed to better ensure that drivers are keeping within the law.

Britain's Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) will implement a high-tech tachograph system to monitor the speeds and distances of heavy goods vehicles and buses. All new commercial road haulage systems must be fitted with the system from the summer of 2004.

RSA Security, the IT firm supplying the digital certificate management software behind the system, claims it will be accurate and secure enough to be used in court action against drivers or firms whose vehicles exceed legal limits on speed or journey distance.

"Digital signatures will be used to sign data exchanges and guarantee the validity of the information -- which includes details of the driver, hours driven, rest periods, distance and speed travelled -- in the event that the electronic records are presented to courts for the prosecution of drivers' hours infringements," said RSA, in a statement released on Thursday.

The European Union has demanding that all member states implement high-tech tachographs by next summer, in an attempt to improve road safety, compliance with transport legislation and fair competition between haulage firms. The UK system will integrate motion sensors within the vehicle with the digital smartcard reader.

According to Jason Lewis, vice president of product management and marketing at RSA Security, the smart card system is a "real and practical application of PKI (public key infrastructure) technology."

Technology is being increasingly introduced across the commercial transport sector. Earlier this week, Orange and Metroline announced a deal that will see London bus drivers receiving text messages in the hope of keeping the service running to a timetable.