How long is it safe to drive a van for?

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New to a commercial driving gig? Hiring a van and about to embark on a long drive? Or maybe you just want to give your brain a little refresher to make sure you’re not overstretching your driving times?

In both the UK and EU, you’ll find there are certain rules in place about how long drivers should be on the road before they need to take a break. While it can be tempting to just push through and get your journey done in the quickest time possible, it’s vital that you do schedule pitstops along the way so you can relax and recharge. 

After all, there’s really no downside to stopping off for a coffee, something tasty to eat or even a quick walk around the block to stretch your legs out. 

So, what are these rules?

While the rules on driving breaks are very similar whether you’re zooming up and down the UK or cruising around the EU, you’ll find a few minor differences. 


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Driving in the UK

The rules on how long it’s considered safe to drive a van for in the UK are quite simple if you’re a commercial driver. You just need to remember:

– To take a break for at least 30 minutes for every five and a half hours of driving you do. 

– Alternatively, you can drive for up to eight and a half hours, but you must stop off for at least 45 minutes within that time, plus another 30 minutes at the end of it.  

– You shouldn’t be on duty while driving for more than 11 hours in one day. Keep track of your hours on a record sheet or tachograph. 

– Once the day is done, take a break for at least 10 hours.

Are there any exceptions?

If you’re driving a vehicle for emergency reasons, such as to help prevent a major disruption to a public service or to save somebody’s life, the above rules on UK driving breaks won’t apply. 

Driving in the EU

If your job takes you over the Channel and into an EU country, you’ll find the rules are a little stricter. For starters, you’ll need to:

– Take a break of at least 45 minutes for every four and a half hours of driving you complete.

– Only drive for a maximum of nine hours a day. However, twice a week you can drive for up to 10 hours.

– Not to drive for more than 56 hours in total during a week or 90 hours in a fortnight. 

– Have a period of 45 consecutive hours per week when you’re not driving for work. Every other week, this can go down to 24 hours. Put simply, give yourself two days off every other week. 

Note that there are also specific rules on how long you should be driving and working each day, too. There are additionally certain exemptions that have been put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic which you can read about on the European Commission website.


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Why do you need to follow these rules?

Besides it being the law, making sure you only drive for a certain amount of time in one go will drastically reduce your chances of being in an accident. 

Let’s face it: driving for long periods of time can be exhausting! As well as the huge amount of concentration needed to navigate the roads (and steer clear of other cars), sitting in the same position for hours on end can also put a real strain on your body. 

Driving when you’re tired, achy and (probably) a bit grouchy will make you much more likely to be involved in an incident on the road. This could be a crash or simply road rage with another driver. 

As well as taking regular rest breaks in service stations and at dedicated truck stops, you can lower the risk of anything happening during your journey simply by:

– Avoiding driving if you’re already exhausted. While this may be unavoidable if driving is your job, you can try and make sure you’re fully alert by having a good sleeping pattern and a healthy lifestyle.

– Sharing the driving. Travelling with someone else who is also able to drive your vehicle? Split the driving with them for long distance journeys. That way, whoever isn’t driving can relax and even have a little power nap in their seat!

– Switching on the radio. Having the radio on at a moderate volume is a great way to keep you awake and alert when you’re on the road. Don’t turn it up too high, though, as loud music or talking can also be a huge distraction. 

– Making sure you’re not hungry. Not eating enough can seriously affect your energy levels and overall mood. Make sure you’re eating regular, healthy meals when you’re on the road and drinking plenty of fresh water. 

– Using a satnav. This is a go-to for many drivers, especially if you tend to drive on different routes each and every day. Having a satnav to give you regular instructions is also a good way to keep you alert and aware of what’s going on around you. 

Driving for work can make it tricky to keep on top of your well-being. Check out our guide to staying healthy while you’re on the road.


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