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Industry wins on demerit points as fatigue changes announced

Drivers slugged with demerit points will have them removed, as Government announces plans to change fatigue policy

By Brad Gardner | December 1, 2009

Drivers slugged with demerit points for fatigue management offences in NSW will have them removed, as the Rees Government announces plans to change fatigue regulations.

In a rebuff to the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA), Assistant Transport Minister David Borger says many drivers penalised for breaches were trying their best to comply with the regime introduced in September last year.

The RTA has been directed to send individual letters to all truck drivers who received demerit points to inform them they will be removed, while the industry will now have until January 1 before demerit points are imposed for offences.

Those who lost their licence as a result of demerit points will also be free to get back behind the wheel of a truck.

“I understand confusion about the rules have [sic] resulted in some drivers being penalised, despite honestly believing they were doing the right thing,” Borger says.

“Demerit points will be applied to serious driver fatigue offences committed after January 1, 2010 but only if the driver is found guilty by a court.”

A spokeswoman for Borger says the Government has contacted other states and the National Transport Commission to establish a uniform demerit points policy to ensure all drivers who breach fatigue regulations are penalised.

The spokeswoman for Borger says interstate drivers who currently breach fatigue management in NSW receive a fine but no demerit points.

Borger also wants a uniform scheme for counting work and rest time to end cross-border inconsistencies.

The Government is also planning to abolish the 84-hour rule under the advanced fatigue management (AFM) module to allow drivers to work fortnightly cycles.

Unlike other states NSW inserted the 84-hour rule into AFM, meaning the proposed change will now bring it into line with other jurisdictions.

The spokeswoman says the rule will remain for BFM and that the change will be implemented early next year.

The reform will occur alongside a plan to allow drivers to take short rest breaks in their vehicles with the engine running so air-conditioning can be used. Currently a vehicle must be turned off for a rest break to be counted.

Borger has urged the industry to use the month-long reprieve to make sure it understands its fatigue management obligations.

He says the new policy on demerit points is part of the Government’s strategy to ensure fatigue management regulations improve safety without being too onerous on the industry.

The move follows the recent release of a help kit by the RTA outlining how companies and drivers can gain basic fatigue management (BFM) accreditation.

The RTA also released a guide stipulating how work and rest hours are counted because of confusion in the industry over how the system worked.

Borger has also committed to working with other jurisdictions to resolve differences in demerit point policies and how work and rest hours are counted.

He says industry groups, such as the Livestock and Bulk Carriers Association (LBCA) and NatRoad, have repeatedly raised concerns about the impact fatigue management was having on the industry.

“They believe there are genuine misunderstandings about the new laws and experienced and responsible heavy vehicle drivers were at risk of losing their jobs,” Borger says.

LBCA President and Stockmaster Managing Director Jim Savage says the announcement shows the Government is prepared to work with the trucking industry to resolve issues.

The announcement comes as debate continues about the imposition of demerit points in NSW.

Currently a court can find someone guilty but waive financial penalties in extenuating circumstances.

But magistrates have no power to rule on demerit points, meaning if someone is not fined they will always receive points.

Nationals leader Andrew Stoner introduced the private member’s bill, the Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Amendment (Demerit Points) Bill to give courts the power to rule on points for speeding and red light offences.

But Labor MP Nick Lalich rubbished the proposal by saying it would be an increase in the number of offences contested.

“The proposed change would create an incentive for drivers facing the prospect of losing their licence to seek a court order not to have the demerit points apply for an offence

However Liberal MP Wayne Merton accused the Government of subverting democracy by restricting the court’s ability to rule on the issue.

“Any government that attempts to usurp the right of people to have such matters determined by a court is not legislating in accordance with what we believe to be western democratic principles,” he says.

“People have a right to have the matter determined by a court.

“The situation is unfair because the Roads and Traffic Authority has taken this power from the magistrates.”

Lismore MP Thomas George says the policy is particularly hard on those living in rural and regional communities because they do not have access to public transport if they lose their licence.

“If a fine is waived we believe, and it is logical, that the loss of demerit points should be waived as well,” he says.

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