Trucking lobby criticises proposed national regs

ATA tells policy makers they must go back to the drawing board on national trucking regulations

Trucking lobby criticises proposed national regs
Trucking lobby criticises proposed national regs
By Brad Gardner | May 9, 2011

The trucking lobby wants policy makers to go back to the drawing board on national heavy vehicle regulations, claiming they are not fit to be implemented.

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has written to the National Transport Commission (NTC) questioning large sections of the draft heavy vehicle laws released for consultation in February.

It says it has identified 245 issues with the Heavy Vehicle National Law Draft Regulatory Impact Statement, which range from minor technical points and legal terminology to recommendations surrounding the Intelligent Access Program (IAP), fines and licence sanctions and road asset management.

"The ATA supports the concept of national heavy vehicle laws. Governments have made many good policy decisions as part of developing them," ATA CEO Stuart St Clair (pictured) says.

"But the laws, as drafted, should not be submitted to ministers for approval until they are reworked and another round of industry consultation has been completed."

National laws are intended to replace existing state and territory-based regulations on January 1, 2013 and will be overseen by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator.

In its response to the RIS, the ATA says it is unacceptable that road managers will not be subject to external reviews when making decisions on route access applications.

"The draft laws would not change this situation because there would be no external, merits-based review of those decisions," St Clair says.

The ATA's submission says external reviews are ideal in ensuring transparency and accountability.

"The asset managers’ decision are critical decisions, and accordingly these should be transparent and accountable," the submission says.

According to the ATA, road managers can easily dismiss applications if reviews are only conducted internally. It says the process will be much more transparent if an applicant can request a statement of reasons and request a review from an alternate source.

It has supported a push for Western Australia to retain its own fatigue management scheme, which differs from the systems used in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia.

The ATA says the system, which operates under occupational health and safety law rather and transport law, must be recognised.

As reported by ATN, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator is considering a mutual recognition policy so jurisdictions will recognise Western Australia’s model and vice versa.

The ATA has also called for more consultation on proposed changes to advanced fatigue management (AFM).

The draft RIS recommends overhauling the module and requiring operators to impose offsets if they want drivers to work more than 12 hours a day.

"AFM has been tested and works on the road, but the panel looking at fatigue has proposed as-yet unspecified changes. These need to be resolved before the draft laws are completed," the ATA’s submission says.

It claims existing AFM schemes and the 14-hour basic fatigue management module are at risk under the recommendation to impose offsets after 12 hours.

In its lengthy response, the ATA opposes the automatic application of demerit points for fatigue offences. It says demerit points should be at a court’s discretion and only applied to the most serious breaches.

However, it has supported a recommendation to implement a nationwide short rest defence for drivers that will give them an extra 45 minutes of work if they cannot find a suitable place to rest.

Furthermore, it wants a split rest defence under BFM. The ATA says drivers should be able to choose how to split their rest so long as they did not do so in the previous 24 hour period.

It has supported an end to the ’three strikes’ policy in NSW and the nationwide expansion of a South Australian policy that gives trucking operators a greater defence against fatigue management breaches.

South Australia amended fatigue laws when they were introduced in 2008 to remove the provision that automatically holds a trucking operator guilty of a fatigue offence if the driver fails to carry the correct accreditation documents.

The amendment means operators can avoid sanctions if they show they took all reasonable steps to ensure the driver complied.

"If an operator has complied with all requirements in relation to providing the driver with relevant accreditation documentation, then it seems excessive that the operator would be responsible for what a driver does with the paperwork after leaving the depot," the submission says.

In its submission, the ATA makes the case for strong chain of responsibility laws to hold all parties in the supply chain accountable.

It says the system must ensure that the supply chain can be pursued without the need to prosecute the truck driver and operator.

The trucking industry has been highly critical of what it sees as a focus on trucking at the expense of other groups such as consignees and consignors.

"Ensuring that the chain investigations are not hampered by state borders is essential and an expected outcome from this reform," the ATA says.

It wants a new requirement slotted into national regulations waiving liability for truck drivers if they commit a breach while under the direction of an authorised officer.

"If a B-double driver is directed off an approved route due to a serious accident, is it expected the driver would disobey the direction of an authorised officer?" the ATA asks in its submission.

It has called for greater restrictions on jurisdictions imposing vehicle registration sanctions for unpaid fines, saying trucking operators should not be subjected to them if they are unrelated to the use of their heavy vehicles.

"All jurisdictions can impose sanctions on vehicle registration for unpaid fines…A registration sanction and loss of earnings is harsh penalty for non-payment of a fine related to pet registration," the ATA writes.

The group also wants licence sanctions in addition to fines from mass, dimension and load restraint offences to be scrapped except in certain circumstances such as when a driver’s conduct has shown to be pivotal to the breach or if it is a repeat offence.

"Such a special circumstance should be subject to a review by a court, as was the intent of the model law."

The ATA has also used its submission to again oppose the Intelligent Access Program (IAP).

Operators must install tracking devices to gain access to higher mass limits (HML) in Queensland and NSW. The ATA has labelled IAP as "the elephant in the room no one wants to address".

Despite IAP’s stated promise of being a facilitator to greater access to the road network, the ATA claims the scheme has largely been an obstacle.

According to the ATA, operators have returned to general mass limits because they cannot justify the expense of IAP.

"As a result, they are using more trucks for the same job, which adds to congestion and reduces the industry’s productivity," the ATA says.

"In addition, IAP should not be a requirement for modular combinations assembled from standard vehicles, such as BAB-quads."

Along with comments raised during a recent consultation session in Brisbane, the ATA says mutual recognition polices must be introduced for pilot and escort vehicles until a uniform solution is reached.

"Currently, different arrangements exist with road authorities regarding pilot and escort drivers, along with variations about when these services are required and the powers able to be used," the ATA says.

The person charged with developing the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator’s responsibilities, Richard Hancock, says he anticipates a mutual recognition policy will be necessary for pilot and escort vehicles.

He recently told trucking operators he wanted strong chain of responsibility laws and an education-based approach to ensuring consistent road enforcement practices.

The NTC has already announced plans to use the feedback from the industry to hold targeted consultation sessions before submitting a final proposal to Australia’s transport ministers to vote on in August.

It recently finished holding consultation sessions throughout the country and has encouraged trucking operators to have their say on the make-up of national laws.

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