The Australian Trucking Association has had its say on driver fatigue in the Heavy Vehicle National Law
Australian Trucking Association (ATA) Chair David Smith says that truck driver fatigue laws should be fixed to deliver simpler work diaries, sensible enforcement, fairer penalties and greater safety for smaller trucks.
It comes after Smith released the ATA’s submission to the National Transport Commission (NTC) in response to its consultation regulation impact statement on reforms to the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL).
Smith says the rules for recording work and rest hours were an unnecessary stress on good, safe drivers.
“The rules for filling in work diaries are a confusing maze,” Smith says.
“There are 27 pages of instructions. There is no tolerance for mistakes.
“The work diary rules discourage people from working in the fatigue regulated sector of the industry or contribute to their decision to leave.”
Smith says fatigue enforcement needs to be changed.
“The submission argues that there should be a 14-day limit on the timeframe for issuing fatigue-related offences at the roadside because old work diary breachers are not an immediate safety risk,” Smith says.
“The NHVR would still be able to use breaches older than the 14-day limit as evidence in safety or fatigue duty prosecutions.
“Drivers should be able to seek a review of fines for trifling administrative offences and for work diary breaches already dealt with under a business’s internal procedures.”
Smith says there should also be changes to formal warnings to allow enforcement officers to have more discretion to issue a formal warning.
“An enforcement officer should be able to issue a warning for an understandable breach such as a driver avoiding a rest area due to concerns about their personal safety or working an extra half hour to get home at the end of a trip,” Smith says.
Smith says that the reforms would enable governments to extend the scope of the fatigue laws to cover trucks weighing between 4.5 and 12 tonnes.
“When the current truck driver fatigue laws were developed, it was decided to exclude the drivers of smaller trucks,” Smith says.
“At the time, it was assumed that long working hours and fatigue were less of a problem for these drivers.
“We now know that this assumption was wrong. There is a strong case for extending fatigue regulation to cover all trucks, although there should continue to be a work diary exemption for drivers doing local work.
Smith says the extension would improve truck driver and other road user safety. The ATA says that the NTC consultation additionally looks at potential changes to the maximum mass, length and height of trucks.
“Productivity growth is the key driver of improvements in living standards, but productivity growth in the freight sector has stagnated,” Smith says.
“The submission supports an increase in the maximum length of trucks from 19 to 20 metres, with the aim of improving driver comfort by allowing sleeper cabs to be larger.”
Smith says the length of B-doubles should also be extended from 26 to 27 metres.
“The submission supports an increase in the general access height limit from 4.3 to 4.6 metres for trailers fitted with electronic braking that includes rollover control.
“There should also be a requirement that the lower deck of a 4.6 metre mezzanine deck trailer be full before the upper deck is loaded.”
Smith says that despite the changes, more work needs to be done on the HVNL.
“The consultation statement did not look at changing the standard schedule of truck driver work and rest hours, but I hope the NTC will be able to work on this in 2024 in addition to looking at penalties,” Smith says.
“We need to look at why the review has taken so long as well.”