AustRoads to consider electronic work diaries

Regulators to consider specifications on electronic work diaries, as industry hits out at a lack of consultation

By Brad Gardner | March 19, 2010

Supporters of electronic work diaries have been accused of ignoring industry concerns, as the move to a new driver monitoring scheme takes a step closer.

Austroads is due to consider draft specifications from Transport Certification Australia (TCA) on a new driver management system, while the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) used a transport forum this week to accuse regulators of a lack of consultation on the issue.

"Austroads and the TCA are not companies that include talking to the industry very well," the ATA's policy guru, Dave Coonan, told attendees of this year's International Heavy Vehicle Symposium.

But TCA CEO Chris Koniditsiotis, who was at the symposium, defended the organisation's approach.

"We have communicated with operators who use electronic systems now," he says.

The dispute followed a speech by the TCA's Senior Operations Manager, Shaun Talko.

Talko supported the use of electronic work diary monitoring on the basis the current system was flawed.

"Information in [paper[ work diaries comes down to the honesty of the person recording the information," he says.

However, in a sign of what the TCA may have submitted to Austroads, Talko told the symposium the 15-minute counting rule and fatigue management sanctions may need to be reformed because electronic monitoring is accurate to within a second.

"There might need to be some policy review there," he says.

Currently a driver must count upwards in 15 minutes blocks for work time and downwards for rest time when writing in their diary, so a work period of five hours and one minute will count as five hours and 15 minutes whereas rest for 14 minutes and 50 seconds will be counted as no rest being taken.

Because of its accuracy, it means electronic monitoring may lead to a breach if a driver rests for 14 minutes and 59 seconds.

Coonan raised concerns about the ability of the tool to pick off drivers for minor driving hour offences.

"We don't want to help regulators infringe operators for technical errors," Coonan says

"The whole idea is to help the driver know what he needs to do."

Coonan accused policy makers of starting with a "flawed base" because they were designing the monitoring tool before ensuring the right regulations were in place.

He says the trucking industry should not be more exposed to infringements because of electronic work diaries.

"I'm really concerned about this specification," he says.

"This is too important to get wrong."

Government agencies raised concerns last year over the impact electronic work diaries would have on the industry after the National Transport Commission (NTC) proposed voluntary electronic reporting as an alternative to the paper-based method.

The Tasmanian Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources (DIER) argued for a national sanctions policy to be developed for offences to ensure drivers were not penalised for minor breaches.

The DIER’s manager of vehicle operations, John Bessell, says electronic monitoring is capable of detecting a truck travelling 1km over the speed limit, meaning drivers may be slugged with fines on a regular basis.

"Low level breaches could come up on a regular basis," he says.

"At what point do you say that it [the incident] constitutes a serious breach?"

An RTA spokesman also advocated changes to the 15-minute counting rule, saying the department is not interested in trivial breaches.

A spokesperson for Austroads says the group has not yet received the TCA's draft and did not say when it would.

"Generally there is a timeframe and it depends on what changes they make and then they sign off on it," the spokesperson says.

Austroads brings together Australian and New Zealand road transport and traffic departments to improve road operations and the running of government transport agencies.

It is responsible for advising the Australian Transport Council (ATC), which is made up of the nation's transport ministers.

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