Speed now part of responsibility net after ministerial approval

By: Jason Whittaker

Trucking operators and freight consignors will soon be held responsible for speeding drivers under new chain of responsibility provisions agreed

Trucking operators and freight consignors will soon be held responsible for speeding drivers under new chain of responsibility provisions agreed by transport ministers.

The National Transport Commission (NTC) says its new provisions, which add speed to the existing overloading and fatigue chain of responsibility framework, were unanimously approved by the Australian Transport Council.

NTC Chief Executive Nick Dimopoulos says the focus of the new laws is on the underlying cause of heavy vehicle speeding.

Off-road parties in the logistics chain must take 'reasonable steps' to ensure their delivery schedules and deadlines do not put pressure on drivers to break road laws.

"Enforcement efforts have traditionally targeted drivers at the roadside and only treat the symptoms of speeding, not the cause," Dimopoulos says.

"We want all parties in the logistics chain to share the responsibility for road safety."

Existing industry best practices — such as setting sensible deadlines, checking records and promoting company policies on speed control — are effective at managing heavy vehicle speed, according to Dimopoulos.

The NTC also quotes studies that show speed control policies can reduce fuel use by 8 percent and equipment wear and tear by 10 percent.

"The reform is about establishing a culture where speeding is not tolerated, giving drivers a greater say in their schedules, and allowing plenty of time to do the job. Many companies already do this and they deserve to compete on a level playing field," Dimopoulos says.

Dimopoulos encourages all parties in the logistics chain to discuss the impact of chain of responsibility laws on their business and identify what steps they can take to manage compliance risks.

Penalties include court-imposed corporate fines of up to $50,000, plus three times the estimated commercial benefit gained by breaking the law.

Road agencies can also ask the court to impose bans and prohibition orders (such as the fitment of vehicle tracking technology).

Under the NTC’s draft proposal for a single heavy vehicle accreditation framework, meeting an approved standard for managing speed would provide prima facie evidence of taking ‘reasonable steps’.

The importance of sharing responsibility for speed compliance was identified by a Summit to Combat Speeding Heavy Trucks (jointly hosted by the Australian Trucking Association and the NTC). Speed is reported as a factor in 29 percent of heavy vehicle fatalities.

All governments have agreed to implement the model chain of responsibility laws for speed compliance within 12 months.

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has welcomed the new model laws.

ATA Chief Executive Stuart St Clair says the new law will encourage companies to adopt the industry best practices advocated by the ATA, including setting sensible deadlines, checking records and having strong company policies on speed management and safety.

"The new law will help change the industry’s attitude toward speeding, but its enforcement needs to be targeted at known offenders who consistently break the law," he says.

"There are drivers and companies out there who are constantly and deliberately breaking the speed limit. There is a need to focus squarely on catching these repeat offenders."

The ATA has questioned the omission of a notification provision within the laws.

"The owner of the vehicle needs to be notified when a speeding fine is issued, as well as the driver, to ensure that the feedback loop between the owner and the driver remains clear," he says.

St Clair has also called for road agencies to continue with visible enforcement and strengthening penalties for using overriding tamper speed limiting devices on heavy vehicles. With the number of devices entering the open market on the rise, the ATA has recently encouraged DITRDLG to investigate banning their increased advertisement and use.

"The industry recognises that speeding is dangerous. Drivers have to obey the law, and their companies and clients have to support them," St Clair says.

"There is no place for speeding among professional drivers.

"We have to make speeding even more socially unacceptable for heavy vehicle drivers and make it a moral duty for each and every driver not to speed or employ the use of any device that will assist them in breaking the law.

"Drivers need to say something on the radio, to the other driver, to the company, when unacceptable behaviour is observed. They need the full support of their companies and customers to obey the speed limit and get the job done safely."

The need for effective compliance with speed management will be addressed at the upcoming ATA Safety Summit, to be held in conjunction with the Australian Trucking Convention in May. St Clair says the Summit will be an opportunity to collectively discuss the new chain of responsibility speeding laws and what they mean for the trucking industry.

"We want to focus on changing industry culture, that of supply chain members, drivers, operators and the community. We need to continue to enage with users to improve their understanding and acceptance of their obligations under chain of responsibility," St Clair says.

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