Down the quarter century reform road

By: Rob McKay

So much has changed in 25 years and too much has stayed much the same. We look at just some of the regulatory milestones

Down the quarter century reform road
NTC states that there has been a substantial reduction in fatigue related heavy vehicle crashes since the introduction of driving hours reform.


History is the story of evolution, which makes reviewing a particular time-span quite arbitrary.

Back 25 years ago, the Grafton bus crash was still a recent memory and the National Heavy Vehicle Road Safety Summit even more recent.

More recent still was the Inter-Governmental Agreement for Regulatory and Operational Reform in Road, Rail and Intermodal Transport, which was to see the National Road Transport Commission, formed in 1991 become the National Transport Commission (NTC) in 1992.

They were some of the driving forces that pushed into the last quarter-century the impact of which the industry feels still.

What might be said of that latter year is it marked a concerted push in government and industry, separately and together, towards national approaches to trucking and logistics issues.

Few developments involving the trucking industry in the past quarter of a century have avoided the NTC’s examination.

It was to push reform of the heavy vehicle road use charges, a hot-button item that retains its fire today.

Since 1991, the National Transport Commission (NTC) has recommended several "Charges Determinations" to Government, with the decade seeing the pay-as-you-go (PayGo) model start.  

Among developments, in 2004, the NTC said the advent of new technologies for automated detection, tracking and recording of heavy vehicle movements makes such pricing systems much more feasible than hitherto.

In 2006, the Productivity Commission found there was a lack of cost recovery by vehicle class which was leading to higher road costs for Government.

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) directed the NTC to recommend a charging regime in 2007 that eliminated cross subsidies between heavy vehicle classes to ensure total cost recovery.

The NTC also sought a modular approach to heavy vehicle charges that created a standard charge for prime movers, but shifted cost recovery onto the trailer axles. A road train discount for unsealed roads was also introduced.

At every turn, the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) – then the Road Transport Forum, its modern guise inextricably linked to the inaugural April 1992 National Road Transport Convention – and its affiliated bodies have sought to ward off taxation overreach, whether it be easing impending Goods and Services Tax burdens in 1999 or pushing for an independent price regulator this year.

Its arguments have been aided by studies and admissions, not least from the NTC itself, pointing to over-recovery in registration and road user charges.

That it has a point appears borne out by ongoing freeze on increases, though trucks and buses are estimated to still be overcharged more than $250 million a year.

The next part of the 25-year struggle to get this right is the federal government’s Heavy Vehicle Charging and Investment Reform (HVCI) effort that began last year.

Beyond the tax take and associated actions are a plethora of reforms that have helped create the regulatory climate the industry experiences today and to which the industry contributed mightily.

We asked the NTC and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR), as the peak government transport bodies responsible for policy and implementation to nominate their top developments.


Australian Road Rules – The National Road Transport Commission (now NTC) developed the first set of the Australian Road Rules which commenced operation on December 1, 1999.

"This was the first time in the history of our federation that a common set of road rules were in place across Australia, making it easier for interstate trucking companies and drivers to comply," the NTC says.

C&E Bill (Chain of responsibility) – The introduction of the NTC’s Compliance and Enforcement model Bill in 2003 established some key reforms to improve the safety of the heavy vehicle industry.

"Among these was the ‘chain of responsibility’ (COR) principle – that all who exercise control in a road transport activity should be made legally accountable if they don’t do the right thing," the NTC says.

Chain _of _Responsibility

Initially this made those responsible for consigning, loading, carrying, driving and receiving goods responsible for taking all reasonable steps to comply with heavy vehicle mass, dimension and load restraint regulations.

It has now been extended to cover speeding, fatigue compliance and maintenance as well, and to impose a general duty on off-road parties to ensure the safety of their transport operation as far as is reasonably practicable.

This reform also introduced risk-based categorisation of offences, and a hierarchy of offences, from improvement notices and formal warnings to prohibition orders.

"This provided regulators with the tools to respond proportionately to the severity of any offence," the commission adds.

Driving hours reform – The heavy vehicle driver fatigue reforms, introduced in September 2008, "have not only helped reduce the road toll, but also give more flexibility for industry seeking to effectively managing fatigue while still meeting commercial requirements, through mechanisms such as the Advanced Fatigue Management processes.

"These reforms were based on the best available scientific evidence on fatigue management.

They continue to apply through the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL), which started in February 2013.

The NTC notes that, since their introduction, the NTI National Truck Accident Research Centre’s Major Accident Investigation Report has shown a substantial reduction in fatigue related heavy vehicle crashes.

HVNL and NHVR –The National Transport Commission was instrumental in leading the development of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) and the establishment of the NHVR.

"The commencement of the HVNL and the establishment of the regulator in 2013 meant, for the first time since federation, Australia had a single set of heavy vehicle laws designed to apply to the whole country, and a single regulator created to administer them," it says.

"While there remains more work to be done to achieve a single set of regulations to cover the entire country, this remains a significant milestone in national heavy vehicle regulatory reform."

Performance Based Standards (PBS) – The National Road Transport Commission (now NTC) developed the PBS scheme to encourage innovation to develop safer, more productive heavy vehicles. This world-first scheme was introduced in 2007.

There are now around 5000 PBS-approved vehicles on Australia roads. PBS vehicles are involved in 46 per cent fewer major crashes than non-PBS vehicles for the same distance travelled.

Between 2014 and 2016, PBS operations have reduced truck travel by 440 million kilometres, compared to using conventional vehicles to carry the same freight.

The productivity improvements average 24.8 per cent across all commodities carried by various PBS vehicles. This ranges from 11 per cent through to 42 per cent, depending on the vehicle and commodity types.

In 2016, the use of PBS vehicles is estimated to have saved 94 million litres of fuel, thereby reducing CO2 emissions by about 250,000 tonnes.


The body itself – The agreement by the Council of Australian Governments in 2009 to establish the NHVR, the development of a HVNL and the establishment of an intergovernmental agreement on heavy vehicle regulatory reform "has been an overarching change to the way heavy vehicles operate from a safety and productivity perspective", NHVR CEO Sal Petroccitto says.

"The NHVR is working to deliver on the benefits to the economy and to road safety through our projects and programs – benefits that will continue to be realised in the years ahead such as last year’s first ever national survey on the state of the national heavy vehicle fleet."

Speed limiters – The requirement to install speed limiters in trucks in 1991 "is probably the single most significant measure taken by governments around Australia to improve road safety related to heavy vehicles," Petroccitto insists. "This measure has seen a reduction in the road toll, particularly among heavy vehicle drivers."

Chain of responsibility – "Improving safety in our industry is an ongoing endeavour," Petroccitto says. "The upcoming changes to (CoR) regulation go a long way to support safe practices and we are committed to working with industry and government towards a zero fatality goal.

"The strengthening of Chain of Responsibility laws will deliver significant safety benefits across the supply chain. These changes align CoR laws more closely with workplace health and safety laws to make safety everyone’s responsibility along the supply chain – not just the driver."

Automation reforms – "There is an increasing recognition within regulation and policy being developed by government of the role of automation in heavy vehicles. Automation and the ‘uberisation’ of freight present a significant challenge for regulation for the NHVR and our jurisdictional partners into the future. We are working with industry and government to stay ahead of the game in this space."

Registration data – "The ongoing commitment by Ministers of the Transport and Infrastructure Council to move to a national registration system for heavy vehicles will bring efficiencies to operators and to enforcement. The work being undertaken by the NHVR and jurisdictions on the Registration Data Acquisition project is the first step in a process that will help us understand what is happening on our roads across borders for the first time and inform national approach to better targeting safety and compliance efforts.

This article first appeared in the January 2018 edition of ATN. Subscribe here.

You can also follow our updates by joining our LinkedIn group or liking us on Facebook