Coalition to get flexible on fatigue

Coalition will back changes to fatigue management law until more rest areas are built

Coalition to get flexible on fatigue
Coalition to get flexible on fatigue
By Brad Gardner | August 20, 2010

The Coalition will back changes to fatigue management law until more rest areas are built along the nation’s highways.

In its transport policy released yesterday, the Coalition criticises the lack of sufficient rest areas to allow truck drivers to comply with mandated rest breaks. Opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss plans to spend $300 million building 500 roadside stops over 10 years.

"In the interim, the Coalition will support some flexibility in the new fatigue guidelines in areas where no suitable rest areas are available," the policy reads.

However, there are no details outlining what will count as a suitable rest area and what flexibility provisions should be introduced. Any changes will need the support of the states.

A spokesman for Truss says the Coalition does not have specific proposals to make fatigue management more flexible but will work with the states to develop solutions.

Drivers currently need to rest at regular intervals and are restricted in the number of hours they can work in a day.

Nationals Senator John Williams earlier this year called for changes to the law.

Williams says a livestock truck driver in South Australia contacted him to say he was 70km from home but had to pull over and sleep in the truck for the night or risk a $500 fine.

"Some 45 minutes or 50 minutes later he would have been home, he could have had a hot shower and a meal and been in his own bed. I think there is not enough flexibility in those circumstances," Williams says.

"I think it is outrageous and some flexibility should be shown when people have unloaded their livestock and they are driving an empty truck out on a country road."

Well known industry identity and trucking advocate Rod Hannifey has long pushed for greater spending on rest areas. He wants divided facilities to separate long haul from short distance drivers and general motorists from heavy vehicles.

According to Hannifey, it is hard for long distance drivers to sleep when other truck drivers constantly turn up for minor rest breaks. He says drivers are also prevented from pulling over because car and caravan owners are taking up room.

By building all-in-one rest areas, Hannifey says governments can also save money.

"If we had a facility that was designed properly for all users, we minimise all the extraneous cost and we minimise doing the same thing three times for three different groups…"

But the Coalition might struggle to gain support from the bureaucracy for its flexibility proposal.

The NSW Roads and Traffic Authority earlier this year labelled any extension to driving time as a "significant risk".

Dr Soames Job from the RTA’s Centre for Road Safety says an industry request for an extra 45 minutes driving time if there was no place for a driver to rest was rejected.

"The reason we have not given that is that there is no way in which to regulate it. When they are caught we would not know whether or not a break occurred 45 minutes down the road," he says.

"We believe that the extra 45 minutes is a significant risk."

The Executive Director Infrastructure and Surface Transport Policy in the Federal Government, Leslie Riggs, warned of the consequences of tinkering with fatigue management.

"Whether it is about fatigue or the loaded weight of a truck or many other dimensions, there are very real questions about how you build judgement into compliance and enforcement regimes," Riggs says.

"…how long is the ‘only’? Is it only another 15 minutes that you are allowed or is it another 45 minutes or is it another hour and 15 minutes? Does that mean that the limits for driving hours under that regime are now 16 hours and 15 minutes rather than 15 hours?"

The National Transport Commission is currently finalising a report into how to improve the basic fatigue management scheme (BFM).

It agreed last year to look at BFM after claims that sections of the industry were rejecting it because it was too burdensome.

The report is meant to address industry concerns over driving and rest hours and make recommendations on how to make BFM more flexible for operators and boost the take-up of the scheme.

The Coalition will also commit resources to big ticket infrastructure items including building an inland rail line from Melbourne to Brisbane through central-west NSW.

The project will cost $4.7 billion, with funding coming from the next round of infrastructure investment in the 2014-2015 financial year.

It has also pledged to continue the duplication of the Pacific Highway in NSW and the Bruce Highway in Queensland between Cooroy to Curra and build the Toowoomba Bypass.

The Coalition will also duplicate the Princes Highway and upgrade highways in Adelaid and Western Australia.
Another $300 million will be spent over four years to upgrade more than 20,000 small road bridges. The Coalition is banking on the states and local governments to match the funding.

There Coalition has also vowed to continue the existing federal government’s efforts to create national trucking regulations.

Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese began the process after Labor came to power, promising the introduction of national regulations by 2013.

"The Coalition will harmonise regulations and cut the state-specific red tape that impedes the road freight sector," its transport policy says.

"Australia’s economy is still handicapped by conflicting transport regulations that make the movement of interstate freight more expensive and inefficient."

And as the RACQ urges both sides of politics to spend more of the revenue from the fuel tax on the road network, the Coalition has promised to invest every cent of heavy vehicle road user charges in the road network.

The charges went up on July 1 this year due to an increase in government expenditure on the road network.

Albanese says the Federal Government is spending $27 billion over six years between 2008 and 2014 under the Nation Building Program.

The scheme replaced the Auslink program that was established by the previous Coalition government.

Related stories:

Industry needs divided rest areas: Hannifey
NTC promises fatigue review this month
Industry needs flexible fatigue management: Williams
Fatigue management flexibility a ‘significant risk’
Parties unveil transport plans

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