NTC eyes revamp of road rules and vehicle standards

NTC flags possible changes to road rules and vehicle standards, including using trucking sector as a template to improve both schemes

By Brad Gardner | November 4, 2011

The National Transport Commission is eyeing a revamp of Australian road rules and vehicle standards, including using the trucking industry as a template to improve both schemes.

The department this week released a discussion paper seeking feedback on a host of proposed changes to the rules and standards.

While a survey of 2000 people found the rules and standards mostly achieved their objectives, there was criticism of the differences in speed limits, turning manoeuvres, licensing conditions and enforcement and penalties.

The NTC’s analysis also found inconsistency among the states and territories in implementing the rules and standards, with the average time taken to introduce changes taking around 18 months. The longest implementation date was six years.

The NTC proposes moving from a model law approach to the one used in the development of national heavy vehicle regulations to introduce a standard implementation date and improve cross-border consistency.

"This could overcome the inconsistent implementation by states and territories," the NTC says.

"Given that the approach for vehicle standards for heavy vehicles will be applied law, it could be argued that the vehicle standards for light vehicles should also be through an applied law approach."

Under the current system, the states and territories draw on a model document when drafting their own legislation. The NTC says this process can lead to jurisdictions making their own amendments, causing inconsistencies.

The approach taken with national regulations involves applied law, whereby one state or territory enacts national laws which are used as the basis for other jurisdictions.

But the NTC raises potential problems with this approach, saying it constrains individual states and territories when enacting laws. Furthermore, it says developing templates acceptable to all governments can be time consuming.

The NTC says it has not done a cost-benefit analysis of adopting applied law for road rules and vehicle standards, but adds that the approach might be worthwhile if transport laws shift to national regulation.

The paper also proposes adopting performance-based standards measures over the prescriptive method currently used on road rules and vehicle standards. The NTC says prescriptive rules limit innovation, continually need updating and can lead to repetitiveness.

"The performance-based standards scheme…developed for heavy vehicles is an example of an alternative to the prescriptive rules for heavy vehicle dimensions. This scheme has allowed innovative heavy vehicles onto Australian roads that meet key safety criteria," the NTC says.

"Performance-based rules have the potential to overcome this weakness of prescriptive rules."

But The NTC adds that performance-based standards can be difficult to enforce, referring to vehicle windscreen wipers as an example.

Currently drivers are required to ensure they have functional windscreen wipers, which the NTC says is easy to enforce.

Under performance-based standards, the NTC says drivers would have more flexibility because the rule would be for a driver to adequately see ahead at all times.

The NTC says road agencies would find it hard to enforce the rule because an officer would need to sit inside a vehicle when it is raining to determine if the driver can see well enough ahead.

The document, which is open for discussion until December 16, poses a number of questions on the road rules and standards, including if there should be a standard implementation date for rules and vehicle standards and if both schemes are meeting community and business needs.

The NTC is also seeking feedback on whether updates can be done better and if there is enough flexibility under the current system to keep pace with changing technology.

NTC CEO Nick Dimopoulos says the review is necessary to ensure the rules and standards remain relevant.

"With the emergence of new vehicle and fuel technologies and a growing but ageing population, it’s important the rules support national goals for safer and more sustainable transport," he says.

According to the survey used in the discussion paper, 67 percent of Australians believe current road rules are appropriate.

It found that 35 percent were made aware of road rules changes by television and radio advertising, with 54 percent saying they used common sense when unsure of rules.

"We need to ensure that changes to road rules are effectively communicated to the community so that motorists, riders and pedestrians are fully informed," Dimopoulos says.

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