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Ministers back electronic work diaries for fatigue

Ministers back shift to e-diaries, but disagreement on how technology should be applied threatens to undermine industry support for it

By Brad Gardner | August 3, 2011

Transport ministers have backed a shift to electronic work diaries for fatigue management, but a disagreement on how the technology should be applied threatens to undermine industry support for it.

Ministers signed off on a National Transport Commission (NTC) policy proposal to give trucking operators the choice of sticking with the existing paper-based reporting method or heading down the technological path.

The document resembles the draft proposal the NTC released last year, including suggesting that operators fit printers to their vehicles to provide records to roadside inspectors.

The trucking industry and telematics providers opposed the recommendation at the time and instead suggested an in-vehicle viewable screen or the ability to transmit information electronically to the relevant authority as alternatives.

While saying the proposal for a printer will be tested as part of the electronic work diary trial to be conducted in NSW, the NTC is blunt in its assessment of the best way of ensuring officers can view records.

“The most widely accepted way for this to be met is for the electronic work diary to have a printing facility as part of the electronic work diary solution,” the NTC says.

It rejects the in-vehicle screen as an option, saying officers might want to respect a driver’s privacy and avoid potential occupational health and safety issues by not entering the truck cabin.

It argues transmitting data to the relevant authority requires cellular communication coverage, which will limit places where officers can conduct roadside intercepts.

“The NTC position remains that the records need to be accessible at the roadside in all situations, and able to be used for the same purposes as a written work diary. Currently, that appears to require a printout of the record…,” the paper says.

This is despite the paper also pointing out that the requirement to produce records at the roadside “has ramifications on the reliability and robustness of the solution and may affect adoption rates”.

The policy proposal readily admits a printing facility is not ideal from a technical point of view and it will increase the cost and complexity of switching from paper work diaries to electronic reporting.

“It is also noted that many operators believe a heavy vehicle is not a suitable environment for the reliable continued operation of a printer,” the NTC says.

Furthermore, it adds that an electronic work diary with a printer will deliver no additional productivity benefits than sticking with the paper-based option because inspections will take the same amount of time to complete.

While the final make-up of an electronic work diary system will be determined by the outcomes of the NSW trial, the NTC says governments should amend fatigue management sanctions to reflect the accuracy of the technology.

It says it is unreasonable that breaches of one minute be enforced under fatigue laws, which round-up work time to the nearest 15 minute interval and round-down rest time.

“Electronic work diaries should record time accurately at least to 1 minute intervals. Policing and sanction policies should be reviewed for drivers using an electronic work diary,” the document proposes.

The NTC has also rejected mandating GPS as a requirement for an electronic diary, saying continuous monitoring of a driver is not essential to fulfilling the purpose of the tool. However, it adds that companies might still choose to use devices equipped with GPS.

Under the policy proposal, drivers will be required to confirm their details when they are displayed on the electronic diary. If they are incorrect, the driver will be free to alter them.

“Electronic work diaries must allow the manual entering of information within a driver’s declaration,” the NTC says.

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator will be responsible for approving the diaries from 2013 onwards, with existing state-based authorities holding the responsibility in the meantime.

Transport Certification Australia (TCA), which is currently in charge of the certification process for the Intelligent Access Program, will be tasked with a similar role under the electronic work diary scheme.

The NTC has maintained its position that operators be given the choice of sharing information beyond their business.

NTC CEO Nick Dimopoulos says he expects greater uptake of electronic diaries within the industry on the back of governments reaching an agreement on a policy.

“This will have widespread safety benefits for industry, government and the community,” he says.

A regulatory impact statement outlining the cost and benefits of electronic work diaries will be completed once the NSW trial ends.

The NTC says operators already using electronic systems are still forced to keep paper work diaries because existing legislation does not specify the requirements the electronic devices must meet.

“Being able to combine these instruments into a single system can significantly reduce unnecessary red tape – an important policy goal for all governments,” it says.

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