States under fire over fatigue counting rules

Operator faces hefty fines over inconsistent fatigue laws. The driver complied with NSW and Queensland laws, but not Victorian regulations

States under fire over fatigue counting rules
States under fire over fatigue counting rules
By Brad Gardner | May 4, 2010

The trucking industry is calling for fatigue management inconsistencies to be resolved after a truck driver breached work restrictions in one state despite being compliant in two other jurisdictions.

The driver from a well-known Queensland company that requested anonymity was slugged with seven fatigue breaches while travelling in Victoria after meeting his obligations while travelling through Queensland and NSW. Victoria counts work and rest time differently than NSW and Queensland.

The National Transport Commission (NTC) is currently looking at resolving fatigue management inconsistencies, but the Australian Trucking Association has written to it urging the matter be accelerated.

"The ATA and its member entities are very interested in achieving common time counting rules so the industry can have certainty so operators can comply with their fatigue obligations," ATA Chief Executive Stuart St Clair says.

A spokesman for the NTC says the group only received the request last week, meaning it has not had time to set up a meeting.

However, he says the government agency is committed to national laws.

"We share the ATA’s desire for common counting rules," he says.

"The issue is already part of a maintenance process. ATA wants to escalate this because they think it is important."

The matter involving the driver is due to go to court at the end of the month after the operator, located south of Brisbane, managed to get an adjournment.

It is trying to gain agreement from all states in the meantime to implement an interim solution to ensure the laws are consistent across borders.

The operator eventually wants all jurisdictions to amend fatigue laws to abolish inconsistencies.

"The best outcome for us and all drivers is to have a national scheme," the operator’s compliance manager says.

The manager fears the company and the driver will be severely penalised if the seven breaches are upheld in court.

"It could be tens of thousands of dollars in fines," the manager says.

Despite being highly regarded for his driving ability and compliance with the law, the truckie faces losing his licence if prosecuted.

"If it [the court case] does go ahead he will lose his livelihood," the manager says.

"He’s a long-time loyal employee who has been with us for years."

The manager is concerned what a prosecution will mean for future fatigue management cases if a driver is compliant in one state while breaching work and rest time when entering another jurisdiction.

"This is something that will affect the industry as a whole and in a great way."

According to the manager, trucking companies and drivers face significant challenges in meeting their obligations because they need to teach them a number of different rules depending on where they are travelling.

Enforcing one model, they say, will be a lot easier on the trucking industry.

The Executive Director of the Australian Livestock Transporters Association (ALTA), Philip Halton, says the industry needs one set of rules for counting work and rest time.

"Queensland and NSW are working to the same rules, Victoria is running a separate race and South Australia hasn’t made their rules public which makes most operators confused and nervous," he says.

Halton says Queensland and NSW measure a 24 period from the end of a major rest break.

"All the rules for how a driver’s hours of work and rest must add up in every 24 hours are applied to that 24 hours," he says.

In Victoria, however, officers only look at rest time in the 24-period from the last major rest break.

Halton says officers count work time from any 15 minute interval they choose, potentially exposing drivers to a litany of breaches.

"In Queensland and NSW, this driver would have been thanked for two and half a months of safe trip planning. In Victoria he’ll get seven fines," he says.

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