RTA 'misleading' operators, mass confusion on points

RTA accused of misleading industry on fatigue management, leading to confusion and anger among operators

RTA 'misleading' operators, mass confusion on points
RTA 'misleading' operators, mass confusion on points
By Brad Gardner

The New South Wales Roads and Traffic Authority has been accused of misleading the trucking industry on fatigue management regulations, leading to confusion and anger among operators and drivers.

The RTA is fending off allegations it told the industry courts were responsible for demerit points for work diary offences even though the power was stripped from magistrates four years ago.

In a decision branded as unfair by the legal community, the RTA was handed the responsibility to impose demerit points for heavy vehicle offences in 2005.

However, Chris Lyons from Lyons Transport claims RTA representatives during a fatigue management information session at Mittagong last year told attendees: "Points for severe and critical offences would be appointed by the court."

As such, one of the company’s drivers fined for a fatigue management breach left court thinking there would be no further penalty due to the belief the magistrate was responsible for demerit points.

"He didn’t know he was losing demerit points until the suspension letter arrived in the mail two weeks later," Cassie Brown, who looks after Lyons Transport’s fatigue management compliance, says.

The same situation happened to Darren Pulley, who thought the magistrate’s decision to issue a $500 fine for not carrying necessary fatigue management paperwork meant he would not be penalised with demerit points.

Although the RTA has denied it has misled the industry, Stockmaster Managing Director Jim Savage says he was also given the impression during fatigue management information sessions that courts would deal with demerit points.

"The RTA has changed things around and we need answers," Savage says.

However, a spokesperson for the RTA says department representatives never told operators and drivers that courts would be responsible for the matter.

"Attendees [of the Mittagong session] were simply advised that penalty notice sanctions (on the spot fines) for lesser offences issued by the RTA or police would not carry demerit point penalties," he says.

According to the spokesperson, attendees were told demerit points would be linked to offences deemed critical or severe under fatigue management.

But Darren Pulley says the RTA is still telling the industry demerit points are dealt with by the court.

After he received a letter from the government agency informing him he had lost seven points from his licence, Pulley contacted the RTA’s heavy vehicle division.

"When I rang the RTA I was told the court would appoint the [demerit] points," he says.

"The RTA has got a lot to answer for."

The RTA is still investigating claims made by Pulley and Savage, but the spokesperson reiterated that courts only issue fines.

"Courts do not have powers to impose demerit points," he says.

The Law Society of NSW is pushing for the courts to be given back the power to determine demerit points, but the RTA spokesperson says there are no plans to review the scheme.

Law Society President Joe Catanzariti says the current policy "is just wrong" because offenders given a second chance by magistrates are still penalised by the RTA.

Under section 10 of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999, courts can record a guilty verdict but decide against imposing a fine in extenuating circumstances.

But even if the defendant escapes a monetary fine, the RTA will still issue demerit points and the decision cannot be appealed.

"With these demerit points, there is no clean slate," Catanzariti, who is also a partner at the law firm Clayton Utz, says.

A NSW-based trucking company that declined to be named was dealt with under section 10 of the Act.

The company driver faced a $250 fine for incorrectly filling out his work diary. The magistrate, however, decided against fining him because the driver suffered from Asperger Syndrome, which is a form of Autism.

"The judge turned it down under section 10 [of the Act] because he had a medical certificate," the owner of the trucking company tells ATN.

But soon after the court case was adjourned, the RTA still decided to slug the driver with four demerit points.

"I would have thought if you had a second chance [from the courts] then the points wouldn’t apply," the owner of the company says.

Cassie Brown from Lyons Transport says the company driver who was issued with demerit points by the RTA had done nothing wrong.

The driver lost four points after his manager forgot to sign the driver’s logbook under the transitional fatigue management scheme (TFMS).

The company attempted to argue on behalf of the driver, but its claims to the RTA that it was the manager’s responsibility to sign the logbook were ignored.

"They said it was the driver’s responsibility to check," Brown says.

Stockmaster’s Jim Savage, who is also the NSW President of the Livestock and Bulk Carriers Association, plans to lobby Minister for Roads Michael Daley to amend the scheme.

According to Savage, who sits on the NSW Road Freight Advisory Council, there is a "hardcore element" within the RTA intent on targeting truck drivers.

"They are kicking everyone in the guts where they can," he says.

The RTA’s decision to enforce demerit points in all cases has left truck drivers in financial limbo.

The Lyons Transport driver who lost four points because his manager forgot to sign his logbook did not have any more points to cover the penalty.

"He has just bought a house, and now he has lost his licence for three months for not having a signature in the book," Brown says.

Darren Pulley lost seven points in one go, which led to his licence being suspended for four months.

He says he will struggle to provide for his family, but can do little about it because the RTA will not allow him to appeal against the demerit points.

Pulley expected the RTA to take a lenient approach to help the industry adjust to fatigue management regulations, but says he and other drivers are being treated like "criminals".

"I’m trying my best to comply, [but] if you make an error you’re the worst mongrel in the world," he says.

"This wasn’t supposed to happen."

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