Trucking company takes on RTA over demerit points

NSW trucking operator will launch legal action against the RTA over its demerit points policy

Trucking company takes on RTA over demerit points
Trucking company takes on RTA over demerit points
By Brad Gardner

A regional NSW trucking operator will launch legal action against the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) over its demerit points policy.

The trucking owner, who declined to be named, has sought legal advice after one of his drivers was issued with four demerit points for a fatigue management breach despite the court case being dismissed.

Labelling the RTA’s approach to fatigue management as "ridiculous", the owner says he is fed up with the government department and has found a solicitor willing to appeal against the imposition of demerit points.

Under NSW law, points are imposed for critical and severe fatigue management offences regardless of whether a court waivers the fine.

But because the magistrate threw the case out of the court, the trucking company believes no further penalty should apply.

"Everyone was under the impression he [the driver] wouldn’t lose points because the case was dismissed," the trucking owner, who operates a small four-vehicle company, says.

The driver was issued with a severe breach late last year by the RTA for not taking a 24-hour rest break.

However, the company’s records show the driver only worked an average of nine hours a day and was also accredited in basic fatigue management (BFM).

And even though the RTA claimed the driver was suffering from fatigue, enforcement officers let him drive home in his boss’s ute.

"It is an absolute mess," the owner says of the situation.

The company was surprised when the matter went to court because it happened not long after fatigue management was introduced. The trucking owner thought the RTA would take an educative approach early on, but says that policy "went out the door".

"They just want to bash us," according to the company owner.

Despite the backlash against the demerit points policy, the NSW Government has refused to alter it.

Minister for Roads Michael Daley has previously told ATN demerit points must remain to penalise those who commit serious fatigue management breaches.

"Minor and substantial fatigue related offences attract a fine, but no loss of demerit points. That recognises that truck drivers do make mistakes," Daley says.

"However, it is appropriate that those charged with severe fatigue related offences, which place both the driver and other road users at risk, should face a loss of points."

But Nationals leader and Opposition spokesman on roads Andrew Stoner wants the policy abolished and has threatened to scrap fatigue regulations unless the Government accedes to his demand.

Fatigue management can be abolished by the Legislative Council because the scheme has not been legislated by the Government.

As reported by ATN, there is mass confusion over demerit points, with claims some RTA representatives are telling the industry that courts are responsible for demerit points, while others are saying the RTA holds the power.

Earlier this month Daley contradicted the roads department by saying courts were responsible for the matter.

Magistrates were stripped of the power in 2005 to decide whether to waiver demerit points in extenuating circumstances for heavy vehicle offences, with courts now required to abide by a set schedule.

The Law Society of NSW wants the policy amended so magistrates are also given an option on whether to impose demerit points.

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.

"With these demerit points, there is no clean slate," he says.

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