States can't agree on approach to heavy vehicle roadworthiness

By: Brad Gardner, Photography by: Greg Bush

Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria all propose different options to manage heavy vehicle roadworthiness.

States can't agree on approach to heavy vehicle roadworthiness
New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia have all proposed different approaches to managing heavy vehicle roadworthiness.


The trucking industry appears set to continue life under a disjointed heavy vehicle roadworthiness and inspection regime if the states get their way.

New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia have lodged formal responses to a National Transport Commission (NTC) study on improving inspection, roadworthiness and accreditation standards, and neither jurisdiction can agree on a single approach.

Victoria and NSW support keeping their current distinct systems in place, while Western Australia wants incremental non-regulatory changes to improve processes and a recognition that a one-size-fits-all model will not work.

Conversely, the trucking industry wants nationally uniform standards.

The NTC’s study outlines a number of possible reforms, including targeted risk-based heavy vehicle inspections, standardised approaches to improve cross-border consistency, more frequent inspections of particular vehicles and extending chain of responsibility to vehicle standards.

While conceding a review of its existing roadworthiness system found it "could not be justified", Victorian transport regulator VicRoads believe it should remain in place.

"Notwithstanding the comments regarding previous reviews of Victoria’s roadworthiness system, VicRoads does not have any current plans to make changes to its system. Accordingly, VicRoads supports the option of preserving its existing roadworthiness system," the department says.

It rejects a proposal to implement mandatory scheduled inspections on the basis it believes there is not enough evidence to warrant them. VicRoads says it conducts inspections less frequently "but with more rigour than other jurisdictions".

WA, too, opposes mandatory scheduled inspections. The WA Department of Transport says such a proposal will impose major regulatory and cost burdens on government and industry.

"WA does not support mandatory annual inspections for all heavy vehicles due to the high costs to industry and government and the lack of evidence that links annual inspections to improved safety outcomes," Department of Transport director general Reece Waldock says.

NSW, however, currently mandates scheduled inspections and supports the existing regime continuing.

It says applying its systems beyond its borders will lead to jurisdictions aligning with NSW practices.

"As such it would be possible for RMS [Roads and Maritime Services] to maintain the status quo where inspections, regulations and systems are concerned," the department of Transport for NSW says.

"This option has the benefit of introducing across all participating jurisdictions an objective criterion for conducting heavy vehicle inspections. It also allows an inspection scheme to be implemented which has been tested and proven successful within NSW."



While Victoria and WA doubt the effectiveness of scheduled inspections, NSW is adamant they work.

It says surveys conducted since the 1990s show NSW registered vehicles subjected to periodic inspections have a lower rate of defects compared to interstate trucks.

"That is, periodic inspections improve the condition of the fleet," it says.

But VicRoads claims money will be better spent on targeted risk-based inspection programs that factor in issues like vehicle age, freight class, vehicle mass and the trucking operator’s compliance history.

It says it does support harmonised inspection practices in principle, but adds that standardisation will require extra equipment to be installed at inspection sites.

"VicRoads’ initial assessment is that some of Victoria’s older heavy vehicle licensed vehicle test sites will not be able to meet the proposed standard. This could raise access issues in country Victoria where less well equipped test sites are located and has the potential to reduce services in these areas," VicRoads says.

Victoria also raises concerns about the financial cost of reforming existing practices.

"Considering the disproportionate share of funding already provided by the Victorian Government to support the operation of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, any increase in funding from Victoria to implement national heavy vehicle roadworthiness reform would be extremely difficult to justify, regardless of whether this is required to fund new initiatives directly or to support increased activity by the NHVR," VicRoads says.

It says any changes will need to come with "sufficient funding" to cover the cost of training staff and implementing new systems and regulatory practices.

"Alternatively, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator would need to commit to delivering the proposed services in place of VicRoads, providing this can be done without increasing the existing impost on either Victoria or the industry," VicRoads says.



Despite their disagreements, NSW, Victoria and WA do agree on extending chain of responsibility to vehicle standards under the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL).

However, Victoria wants the issue looked at as part of the separate review of chain of responsibility currently underway.

WA is not a signatory to the HVNL, which applies in NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT, but Waldock says it is critical WA is involved in any future development on chain of responsibility.

"WA will consider alignment to the national legislation where a clear benefit can be demonstrated for the state," he says.

NSW says it supports the inclusion of broad general duties as opposed to introducing specific requirements, saying the latter could lead to companies adopting a box-ticking attitude toward compliance.

"Regardless of which of the options is chosen, TfNSW is of the view that the inclusion of a broad, positive duty to promote vehicle safety as a general duty under the HVNL is the best mechanism for managing COR under the new scheme," Transport for NSW says.

The NTC released its paper on ways to improve heavy vehicle accreditation, inspection and roadworthiness standards in late January.

It will submit final recommendations to Australia’s transport ministers in July.

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