Can drivers spend their regular weekly rest period in the transport vehicule?
Following a Belgian Council of State preliminary ruling request, the CJEU ruled on 20 December 2017 that, in accordance with the text of Regulation No 561/2006, a driver may not take regular weekly rest periods in the vehicle but must take them in a place that offers adequate and suitable accommodation. On the other hand, the daily rest periods and reduced weekly rest periods may be taken in the vehicle (subject to certain conditions).
Origins of the case
This ruling arose from proceedings before the Belgian Council of State between Vaditrans BVBA, a transport company established in Belgium, and the Belgian State, in which Vaditrans challenged a fine imposed on it due to a 2014 Royal Decree because one of its drivers had taken their compulsory regular weekly rest period in their vehicle.
According to Vaditrans, this Royal Decree was incompatible with the principle that penalties must have a proper legal basis as it penalised taking the regular weekly rest period in the vehicle, whereas, according to Vaditrans, the relevant EU Regulation No 561/2006 on drivers’ hours rules (“the Regulation”) does not contain any prohibition in that regard.
The Belgian Council of State asked the CJEU to interpret the Regulation.
Types of rest periods
Rest periods refer to an uninterrupted period during which a driver may freely spend his/her time as he/she chooses.
The Regulation distinguishes two types of rest periods, daily rest periods and weekly rest periods, which are themselves subdivided into two categories of regular and reduced rest periods, giving the following categories:
- Regular daily rest periods;
- Reduced daily rest periods;
- Regular weekly rest periods;
- Reduced weekly rest periods.
During any two week consecutive period, a driver must take either (i) at least two regular weekly rest periods or (ii) one regular weekly rest period and one reduced weekly rest period (this option has particular requirements that must be satisfied).
Where drivers may spend those rest periods
The Regulation allows drivers, where they choose to do so, to spend their daily rest periods and reduced weekly rest periods inside their vehicle, as long as it has suitable sleeping facilities for each driver and the vehicle is stationary.
However, there was some uncertainty – raised by Vaditrans through this case – about whether regular weekly rest periods could also be spent inside the vehicle under the same conditions or whether doing so was prohibited under the Regulation.
The Court’s findings: regular weekly rest periods cannot be spent in the vehicle
The Court found that the Regulation clearly prohibited regular weekly rest periods being spent in the vehicle.
In reaching this conclusion, the Court observed that each time the Regulation refers to the terms ‘regular weekly rest period’ and ‘reduced weekly rest period’ together it uses the general expression ‘weekly rest period’. However, when it comes to the option to take rest periods in the vehicle, the Regulation strictly uses the general expression ‘daily rest period’ (thus covering both regular and reduced daily rest periods) and the specific expression ‘reduced weekly period’. According to the Court, because the EU legislator did not use the general expression ‘weekly rest period’ to encompass the two types of weekly rest period, it clearly follows that the EU legislator intended allowing the driver to take reduced weekly rest periods in the vehicle but to prohibit him/her from doing so for regular weekly rest periods. The driver should, according to the Court, be able to spend his/her regular weekly rest period in a place that offers the driver adequate and suitable accommodation.
This interpretation is supported by the provision’s legislative history and its context as well as the Regulation’s main objective, which is to improve working conditions for employees in the road transport sector and road safety in general.
The Court thus concluded that since the prohibition on taking the regular weekly rest period in a vehicle was clearly laid down in the Regulation and the Regulation imposes a requirement upon Member States to penalise infringements, the principle that penalties must have a proper legal basis was not infringed by the Belgian State.
The following table summarises where drivers can spend rest periods:
|Rest periods||Can be spent inside the vehicle?|
|Regular daily rest period||YES|
|Reduced daily rest periods||YES|
|Regular weekly rest periods||YES|
|Reduced weekly rest periods||NO|
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