Court hikes over-mass fine in warning to drivers

Comply or pay the price, operators told, as court increases driver fine for over-mass truck

Court hikes over-mass fine in warning to drivers
Court hikes over-mass fine in warning to drivers
By Brad Gardner | September 18, 2009

The trucking industry has been warned to abide by loading restrictions after a court agreed to increase the fine for a driver who committed a severe risk breach.

The Supreme Court of South Australia upheld an appeal against Anthony Edward Neil after he was originally convicted and fined $200 for exceeding mass restrictions by 2.6 tonnes.

Neil’s tipper-truck exceeded the legal load limit of 9 tonnes and he could have been fined up to $9,000 under the Road Traffic Act, which stipulates minor, substantial and severe mass, dimension and load restraint offences.

Justice John Sulan ruled the original penalty did not reflect the gravity of the offence and it was so low it may not deter others from breaching restrictions.

"It is important that drivers who drive large-loaded vehicles understand the importance of complying with the requirements of the Act," Sulan says.

"The magistrate failed to have adequate regard to the scheme of the Act…she failed to consider the categorisation of this offence as a serious risk offence."

Sulan increased the fine to $1,000 despite a plea from the South Australian Government for the maximum penalty to be imposed.

The Department of Transport, Energy and Infrastructure launched the appeal after it considered "the penalty was manifestly inadequate" and Neil’s actions caused accelerated road wear and "a serious risk of harm to road infrastructure".

When deciding penalties for mass breaches, courts are required to consider the risk to road infrastructure, public amenity, traffic congestion, road safety and whether there has been an unfair commercial advantage.

Neil was caught on March 21 this year after he agreed to move some built-up material from the worksite to keep it clean and avoid inconvenience to others.

"It was not part of the respondent’s usual duties to move material from the site but, on that day, the person who was charged with the responsibility was absent," court documents say.

In sentencing Neil, Sulan took into account the driver’s income, his early guilty plea and the fact he had no way of accurately determining the weight of the load.

"There was no weighbridge. No other assistance was provided to the respondent to check the weight of the load," Sulan says.

"He was, therefore, required to make a guesstimate which turned out to be grossly inaccurate."

The court also decided against fining Neil the maximum amount in part due to his actions after the incident.

"…when he realised the seriousness of his offence, he took immediate action to ensure that the contractor created a protocol for drivers in the future who drive vehicles carrying heavy loads," Sulan says.

Court documents say the contractor now provides buckets which hold a specific weight.

"Drivers were able to estimate more accurately the weight of their load," the documents say.

Although the contractor was not held liable for the incident, all parties involved in transporting goods can be prosecuted under national chain of responsibility laws for overloading offences.

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