Not enough evidence to show NHVAS works

By: Brad Gardner

NTC and NHVR study says it is unclear if the NHVAS has been effective at improving road safety.

Not enough evidence to show NHVAS works
A review of roadworthiness inspection regimes in Australia was launched after the fatal tanker crash involving Cootes Transport.


The worth of the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme (NHVAS) has been brought into question, with a new report saying there is not enough evidence to show it has been effective.

The National Transport Commission’s (NTC) and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator’s (NHVR) examination of current practices for ensuring the roadworthiness of heavy vehicles raises doubts about whether the NHVAS has achieved its aims since it was first mooted in 1997.

The report is the first stage of a two-part review of roadworthiness inspection regimes in Australia.

"At this stage, data collection methods do not yield sufficient, reliable data to reach a conclusive determination about whether the NHVAS provides an effective mechanism for achieving road safety outcomes relative to its objectives," the report says.

The report says when the NHVAS was proposed in 1997 it was expected to allow road enforcement agencies to better target their resources at companies not enrolled in the scheme, but there is not enough proof to show this has happened.

"At this stage data collection methods have been unable to yield sufficient, reliable data to enable an evaluation of whether the NHVAS has reduced administration costs of road transport laws, or whether it has contributed to better targeting of enforcement resources," the report says.

The NTC and the NHVR also highlight flaws in the auditing process under the NHVAS, such as the ability of trucking operators to choose their auditor.

"The commercial relationship between operator and auditor creates an inherent potential for the auditor to provide ‘what the purchaser wants, not what is required by the issue identified’," the report says.

It goes on to add that the ability of certified NHVAS auditors to provide consultancy services "creates a high risk for a conflict of interest" because auditors can advise companies on how to enter the scheme and then take on an auditing role.

Furthermore, the report says auditors have no obligations under chain of responsibility laws.

"Currently, auditors do not automatically carry any direct liability for their audit outcome," it says.

"In some schemes, auditors are held liable for remediation of defects where an operator is discovered to continue to run defective vehicles in a business or undertaking to which the auditor has issued a favourable audit opinion. In such schemes, the auditors are required to hold substantial insurances."

The report also identifies problems with the current set-up governing non-compliance reports (NCR). Auditors have the power to issue an NCR to an operator that has not met its maintenance management requirements.

"If an operator fails to close out the corrective actions contained in the NCR, the auditor has no statutory powers of enforcement, therefore the operator may continue to enjoy the regulatory benefits with no sanctions," the report says.

The NTC and the NHVR report does not make any recommendations on how to improve the NHVAS or any other schemes designed to guarantee a heavy vehicle’s roadworthiness.

The NTC says the report is designed to outline current requirements for roadworthiness and that the second report due later this year will contain a number of recommendations aimed at improving existing practices.

"This phase one report outlines current practice for ensuring heavy vehicle roadworthiness in Australia. It’s essential to take this first step and get a clearer picture of how things are done now," NTC CEO Paul Retter says.

A review of Australia’s heavy vehicle roadworthiness regime was launched in the wake of the fatal tanker crash at Mona Vale in New South Wales last year.

The truck involved in the crash belonged to Cootes Transport, which was enrolled in the NHVAS at the time of the accident.



The NTC and NHVR report also sheds light on the various jurisdictional approaches in place for determining the roadworthiness of heavy vehicles.

Western Australia and Tasmania do not require periodic inspections whereas New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory mandate annual inspections as part of the registration process.

The report says Victoria only requires inspections when the ownership of a vehicle changes hands, while South Australia limits annual inspections to restricted vehicles such as B-doubles and road trains and those not enrolled in an approved accreditation scheme with maintenance management.

"The type of roadworthiness assurance activities undertaken varies significantly between jurisdictions. Each jurisdiction has its own requirements for the circumstances in which a heavy vehicle must be inspected and by whom," the report says.  

"Further, variation in compliance inspection regimes was also evident when comparing Australian practices to those of some overseas countries and regions."

The report looked at schemes in place in New Zealand, Canada, the UK, the European Union and the US.

The NTC and the NHVR are now seeking feedback from the industry before issuing recommendations on ways to improve practices.

"Even though the first recommendations for the review are not due to go to Australia’s transport ministers until later this year, wherever possible we’ll put good ideas into action early," NHVR CEO Sal Petroccitto says.

Transport ministers recently asked the NTC to consider how best to apply chain of responsibility laws to people responsible for the roadworthiness of heavy vehicles.

"It is important for every part of the heavy vehicle industry [to] help reduce the risk of crashes," Retter says.

"Extending the chain of responsibility laws to heavy vehicle roadworthiness could be one way to make drivers and our roads safer."

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