Drivers need greater fatigue flexibility: MP

Queensland MP wants more flexible approach to fatigue laws under NHVR and examination of whether WA's system can be adopted

By Brad Gardner | August 9, 2012

Truck drivers need to be given greater flexibility under fatigue laws, according to a long-serving Queensland MP, who says Western Australia’s system appeals to operators in his home state.

Warrego MP Howard Hobbs, who also chairs the Transport, Housing and Local Government Committee, wants the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) to tinker with the laws so drivers can get home more often at the end of their shift.

Hobbs says the current structure of the laws means drivers are forced to pull up as soon as they run out of work hours, even if they are close to home or a local town.

He says the regulator could look at an arrangement whereby if a driver worked a little longer to get home, they could have a greater period of rest to offset it.

"We have truck drivers on the road when they should be home with their families. So if we can head towards improving that, that would be fantastic," Hobbs says.

He made the comments during a public hearing held by the committee on the Heavy Vehicle National Law Bill, which will establish the regulator.

"I think the Western Australian logbook system has some appeal to some of our people and that is one of the issues that can be taken up as well," Hobbs says.

WA permits drivers to work 168 hours in 14 days, while those in the eastern states are restricted to 154 hours in 14 days under the advanced fatigue management module (AFM). The long hours under WA’s system are designed to recognise the needs of remote operations and the long distances between rest areas.

The NHVR Project Office is currently looking at a new AFM module, and Project Director Richard Hancock indicated during the public hearing greater flexibility for drivers was a priority.

"I would strongly say that the consultations that we have had with the livestock industry here in Queensland to date and the development of the advanced fatigue management approach that we are currently undertaking would in fact give greater flexibility than what is present today," he says.

"So in that process, yes, we are trying to look at those sorts of circumstances where you are 10 minutes from home but you have to stop, and you have to stop on the side of the road in some cases."

However, Hancock says he also wonders what role scheduling plays in drivers not being able to make it back to base or to their home within their allotted hours.

"But I very clearly recognise that there are many driving situations around the country that depend on driving hours and things like waiting time at depots. If you wait three hours at a depot it is treated as work," he says.

Hancock says there has been great interest from the industry about what can be done to assist drivers and that coming up with a solution "would be a priority for the national regulator".

"Will it be fixed on day one? I am not prepared to indicate that right here and now, but it is a priority," he says.

Hancock is also holding open the prospect of adopting some of WA’s schemes, including the state's approach to fatigue.

"If there are features of the Western Australian approach and system that have interest and appeal in other parts of Australia, the national regulator can definitely look at those," he says.

Queensland’s work diary rules will change once the NHVR takes control of fatigue laws. The state currently exempts drivers working within 200km of their base from carrying a work diary, but that exemption will be pegged back to 100km to bring Queensland into line with other states.

But Hancock has talked up the possibility of alternative arrangements for drivers carrying out remote service operations.

During a trip to the Queensland region of Carpentaria, Hancock was told drivers working more than 100km from their base establish a work camp and work within a radius of that.

"I do think there is some capacity there to consider those kinds of working arrangements and whether in those particular types of arrangements, for example, there is a requirement for a logbook to be completed," he says.

The Transport, Housing and Local Government Committee is due to report its findings next week on the Heavy Vehicle National Law Bill. Queensland will pass the Bill first, with other jurisdictions applying the same law by July next year to create national regulations.

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