Fatigue offenders to feel the pinch under national regs

Fees for more than 200 penalties will rise under national regulations, with governments agreeing to substantial increases for fatigue offences

Fatigue offenders to feel the pinch under national regs
Fatigue offenders to feel the pinch under national regs
By Brad Gardner | January 23, 2013

Penalties for breaching fatigue management laws will rise substantially under national heavy vehicle regulations, with governments agreeing to increase fees by more than 50 percent in some cases.

A Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads paper tabled recently at a parliamentary hearing on the Heavy Vehicle National Law Amendment Bill details a suite of changes to court imposed penalties and infringement notices to take effect later this year.

The changes are designed to bring all the states and territories into line so that operators and drivers will be subjected to the same penalty regardless of where they are based.

Based on a comparison of existing penalties in place in Queensland, the paper says 80 court imposed penalties will rise by more than 50 percent once all the states and territories pass the Bill by July.

Transport and Main Roads says 57 penalties will increase by more than 30 percent but less than 50 percent.

"Serious fatigue offences, such as severe and critical breaches of work and rest hours will attract significantly higher penalties under the HVNL [Heavy Vehicle National Law]," the Main Roads paper says.

"For example, offences for severe and critical breaches for drivers, as well as parties in the chain of responsibility increase from $4950 to $6600 court imposed maximum penalty to $10,000 and $15,000 court imposed maximum penalties under the HVNL."

The department says the significant increases reflect the prevalence of fatigue as a contributing factor in crashes.

The changes will allow courts to impose a maximum penalty of $4,000 for minor breaches of standard hours and basic fatigue management (BFM), compared to the current figure of $1,650. The penalty rises to $6,000 – an increase of $2,700 – for substantial breaches.

Those found guilty of committing a severe breach of standard hours, BFM or advanced fatigue management (AFM) will face a $10,000 fine (up from $4,950), while a critical offence will attract a $15,000 penalty (up from $6,600).

Main Roads says 174 court imposed penalties will increase, based on Queensland’s existing regime. However, it says 149 court imposed penalties will decrease – 16 by more than 50 percent. The number of infringement penalties will decrease by 132, with 39 increasing in value.

"For minor or administrative matters such as how and when information is recorded in a work diary, penalties are substantially lower," Main Roads says.

Under the changes, drivers will face a $150 infringement notice instead of $660 for not recording information correctly in their work diaries.

But drivers caught defacing their diary, destroying records, removing diary pages and making entries in another person's diary will face a court imposed penalty of $10,000. The maximum penalty is currently $6,600.

The department says national regulations will introduce 28 new offences that do not currently attract penalties under existing Queensland law. National regulations will also remove penalties for 39 offences currently in place in the state.

National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) CEO Richard Hancock told the parliamentary hearing there is a level of understanding in the industry about the changes through consultation with industry associations.

He says a communications campaign outlining the changes is scheduled to run this year to inform operators and drivers about the new national penalty framework.

"So that to the greatest extent possible, we do not want a driver suddenly getting hit with a penalty that has gone up and for whatever reason was not aware of that or, at the very least, his company was not aware of it," Hancock says.

Penalties for parties liable under chain of responsibility law will be increased. The penalty for failing to prevent a driver from driving while fatigued will rise from $6,600 to $10,000, while failing to ensure a consignment does not cause a driver to break fatigue laws will more than double to $10,000.

The original bill to establish the NHVR and national regulations used Queensland’s penalties as a guide because jurisdictions were still negotiating the national penalty framework. Queensland is the first and only state to enact national regulations.

Except for Western Australia, the remaining states and territories are expected to implement national regulations by July this year to achieve cross-border consistency.

The NHVR opened on January 21 and took control of the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme (NHVAS) and Performance Based Standards (PBS).

It will take on other functions such as enforcing chain of responsibility and looking after access permits from July, but a national registration system
may be delayed by up to two years.

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