ATA slams ‘unfair’ driver fatigue laws

The Australian Trucking Association has released its submission to the NTC saying the truck driver fatigue laws 'should be fixed'

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has released a submission to the National Transport Commission (NTC) in response to its consultation statement on reforms to the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL).

The submission calls for simpler work diaries, sensible enforcement, fairer penalties and greater safety for smaller trucks.

ATA chair David Smith says the rules for recording work and rest hours were an unnecessary stress on good, safe drivers.

“The rules for filling in work diaries are a confusing maze. There are 27 pages of instructions. There is no tolerance for mistakes,” Smith says.

“The work diary rules discourage people from working in the fatigue regulated sector of the industry or contribute to their decision to leave.

Smith says fatigue enforcement also needed to be changed.

“The submission argues that there should be a 14 day limit on the timeframe for issuing fatigue-related offences at the roadside, because old work diary breaches are not an immediate safety risk,” he says.

“The NHVR would still be able to use breaches older than the 14 day limit as evidence in safety or fatigue duty prosecutions.

“Drivers should be able to seek a review of fines for trifling administrative offences and for work diary breaches already dealt with under a business’s internal procedures.

“There should also be changes to the rules for formal warnings, so enforcement officers would have more discretion to issue a formal warning if they believed it appropriate.

“An enforcement officer should be able to issue a warning for an understandable breach such as a driver avoiding a rest area due to concerns about their personal safety or working an extra half hour to get home at the end of a trip.”

Smith says the ATA has been arguing throughout the review that record keeping and work and rest hour penalties are too extreme.

“It’s just unfair that a couple of minor offences could cost a driver a week’s wage. The NTC should review all these penalties and set them at sensible levels,” he says.

Drivers of smaller trucks were excluded from the current truck driver fatigue laws under the assumption that long working hours and fatigue were less of a problem for these drivers.

However, the ATA says that this assumption was wrong.

“There is a strong case for extending fatigue regulation to cover all trucks, although there should continue to be a work diary exemption for drivers doing local work,” he says.

“The extension would improve safety for the drivers of these trucks and everyone else using the road.

The NTC consultation statement also looked at potential changes to maximum mass, length and height of trucks.

“Productivity growth is the key driver of improvements in living standards, but productivity growth in the freight sector has stagnated,” Smith says.

“The submission supports an increase in the maximum weight of trucks, which should be in addition to the planned mass increases for trucks that meet the Euro VI emission standard.

“The submission also supports an increase in the maximum length of trucks from 19 metres to 20 metres, with the aim of improving driver comfort by allowing sleeper cabs to be larger. The length of 26 metre B-doubles should be extended to 27 metres as well.

“The submission supports an increase in the general access height limit from 4.3 to 4.6 metres for trailers fitted with electronic braking that includes rollover control.

“There should also be a requirement that the lower deck of a 4.6 metre mezzanine deck trailer be full before the upper deck is loaded.”

Smith says there is more work needed to be done on the law.

“The consultation statement did not look at changing the standard schedule of truck driver work and rest hours, but I hope the NTC will be able to work on this in 2024 in addition to looking at penalties.

“We need to look at why the review has taken so long as well.

Driver fatigue laws and enforcement have become a hot topic of discussion, with The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) partnering with police in ‘Operation Forager’ to conduct a national operation to combat fatigue related heavy vehicle crashes this holiday season.

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