Electronic diaries have benefits, but operators face higher costs


Governments asked to implement voluntary electronic work diary scheme, but operators will be hit with new costs under NTC proposal

Electronic diaries have benefits, but operators face higher costs
Electronic diaries have benefits, but operators face higher costs
By Brad Gardner | October 21, 2010

Electronic work diaries have the potential to benefit trucking operators, a new paper says, but governments will need to decide who will absorb the cost of moving away from paper-based reporting.

The National Transport Commission today released its policy paper on introducing a scheme to give operators the choice of using electronic or paper work diaries to comply with fatigue management requirements.

There are currently no regulations in place governing electronic reporting, meaning companies currently using in-vehicle monitoring devices must still ensure drivers carry a paper work diary.

According to the NTC, electronic diaries can improve compliance with work and rest hours and help businesses respond proactively to breaches because information is recorded in real time.

"Electronic devices offer the potential to record and use information in ways not possible within the current paper-based system," the paper says.

"Unfortunately the entire enforcement community does not currently possess the ability to review electronic information. This produces a significant challenge to the requirements of an electronic work diary."

The NTC says police and enforcement officers will need to invest in new technology if drivers only need to provide electronic records, while operators will pay if governments require roadside printouts.

Despite raising concerns about the proposal, the NTC wants governments to require operators using electronic work diaries to install printers in their trucks.

"The operator is unlikely to achieve any productivity gain by providing a printout at the roadside because the review of the paper records is likely to take the same time as reviewing the written work diary," the NTC says.

"It should be noted that a printing facility is likely to increase the level of complexity and cost of the electronic work diary solution and is not commonplace with current telematics equipment."

The NTC rejected suggestions for an in-vehicle screen or a back-office solution that could send records to enforcement agencies upon request.

It claims a screen inside the truck is not ideal for enforcement officers who want to respect a driver’s privacy and avoid possible workplace safety issues by entering the cabin.

The NTC adds that back-office solutions that rely on cellular communication limit where officers can conduct roadside intercepts.

Furthermore, the paper wants drivers to carry records stretching back 28 days, with the information stored electronically or on a USB storage device.

THE COUNTDOWN IS ON
The NTC recommends electronic diaries be equipped with a countdown timer so a driver knows when he needs to stop working. A counter could also be displayed during rest breaks so a driver knows when he can begin driving again, the NTC says.

Information on work and rest hours will be presented to a driver, who will then be responsible for accepting or amending it. The paper says original information will be stored so it can be audited if need be.

"The information would not constitute the driver’s declaration until they accept the information," the NTC says.

Under the NTC’s proposal, electronic diaries will be able to report impending breaches so the operator can intervene before an offence is committed.

The paper recommends a performance-based system so designers can innovate over time without being bound by specific restrictions.

While NTC Senior Manager Dr Jeff Potter says the move will allow companies to improve electronic diaries and minimise uptake costs, the paper highlights potential drawbacks.

"Appropriate testing regimes must be designed and potentially re-designed for each applicant received," it says.

"In contrast, prescriptive specifications that define how solutions shall be designed restrict industry innovation but allow for a simple ‘one size fits all’ testing regime."

MORE BUREAUCRATS TO OVERSEE SCHEME
Trucking operators will not be the only ones facing higher costs by going down the electronic path, with the NTC saying new roles will need to be created within the bureaucracy to govern the scheme.

It says staff will be needed to control how many recording devices a driver has at one time, to record the details of the device and the driver, ensure the device is functional and issue the diary after the driver’s identity has been verified.

"This role is akin to the management of the written work diary by the authority. However, as this now incorporates the management of an electronic device, the question of who performs this role is pertinent," the NTC says.

It also wants a "caretaker" employed to maintain devices and rectify any problems, saying governments cannot expect a driver or record keeper to have the necessary skills.

The NTC says governments will need to outsource work to a body to carry out any necessary specification updates or to assist in certifying companies to use electronic work diaries.

"While the approving authority owns the specification for electronic work diaries, it is likely that the authority will not possess the skills to be able to update the specification," the paper says.

GAINING APPROVAL FOR ELECTRONIC DIARIES

Under the NTC’s scheme, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator will govern the process to approve electronic work diary providers.

Providers will need to approach an approved certification body – similar to what exists with the Intelligent Access Program (IAP) – and meet a list of specifications before being issued a certificate.

"The applicant then provides this certificate and applies to the authority for approval of their electronic work diary system," the NTC says.

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator will be running in 2013 and will be stationed in Queensland with offices across Australia. It will be responsible for harmonising cross-border regulations to reduce the administrative burden on interstate trucking companies.

The paper also addresses court-imposed intervention orders aimed at reining in persistent offenders. Because there is no regulation governing the standards of devices, the NTC says it is difficult to determine the effectiveness of sanctions.

It proposes any court-imposed sanctions mandate data capture for time and location and require operators to provide reports of noncompliance in real time.

Dr Jeff Potter says developing a scheme to regulate electronic work diaries will give operators and service providers confidence to invest in the technology.

"We know that many transport operators are already using electronic work diaries to beneficially manage speed and fatigue compliance in real time," he says.

The policy paper is open for discussion until December 10. While not yet releasing dates or locations, the NTC is planning to hold consultation sessions in late November or early December. It says details will be made available on its website.


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