$3566 in fines has another truckie ready to ‘hang up the boots’

After 19 years as an owner operator, Nicholas Long, 39, got rid of the last of his trucks last year.  Now, after receiving three fines in the space of just four weeks, equating to a whopping $3566, he has plans of soon throwing in the towel for good.

“The cost is what made me get rid of them all. Trying to find quality drivers was hard too, but the cost of fuel and freight rates means you’re always fighting to stay on top.”

Growing up, it was all about trucks. “My dad is a carpenter and my whole family is in the building game, but all I ever wanted to do was be a truck driver. I was that kid who always bought truck magazines. I started in a van many moons ago,” said Long.

Based in Sydney, at one stage Long was running four trucks. “You try and keep up with all your mechanicals and then with all the other costs, there’s just no money it. There’s a really fine line and with fuel being up the way it is, it makes it hard.”

He now works for a small Picton based transport company and says it’s a good gig with a good boss.

The first in his recent spate of fines was $592 for a half hour breach in his logbook. What was so odd about this fine was that the alleged breach occurred on March 2, however the fine didn’t arrive until mid-July. “I don’t know if it was a random audit, but it was apparently something to do with the cameras, so then they audited my boss and got the yellow copies from him. That’s how they found the breach. They shouldn’t be able to pick up fatigue breaches from a camera,” said Long.

“I’ve never knocked safety and when it comes to safety, you’ll never get an argument from me, but when trying to fine someone for a mistake they made six months ago, how does that impact their fatigue.

“I didn’t realise I had made the mistake in my logbook, my boss didn’t realise either so I sent it back for review. We’re only human and that’s the part they don’t understand. If someone has gone four hours over their logbook, then yes, I agree with fining them. But if it’s 15 minutes or a line not marked, if it’s a minor breach, give them a warning instead of just dishing out fines after fines.

“I remember when first started with the logbooks, I was making the same mistake over and over and didn’t realise, the guy who stopped me actually showed me what I was doing wrong – and guess what, I’ve never made that mistake again.”

Long says the fine is pending decision but if they reject it, he plans to argue it in court. “But the cost of fighting the fine outweighs the cost of the fine itself. That’s the problem,” he added.

The next fine of $1487 came after part of his number plate was obstructed by a kangaroo. “I came across Queensland and mowed a roo over. Half of it went under the truck and half went over the number plate. It got picked up on a camera at Bendemeer, NSW. The fine states that it’s an unregistered/registerable vehicle class C in NSW. So I’m fighting an unregistered vehicle charge, when in fact the vehicle was registered. I sent that into get reviewed and it got rejected. When they rejected it, I contested it. In my eyes, when I go to court I’m not fighting a blocked number charge, I’m fighting driving an unregistered vehicle. $1487 is more than I earn some weeks. That’s what I’m tired of,” explained Long.

If that wasn’t enough of a blow, another fine of $1487 arrived in the mail soon after for following too closely to the vehicle in front. He was carrying permit designed scaffolding, which was 4.8 metre oversize, between Wollongong to Yatala, so required an escort. That vehicle in front of him was his pilot driver. “This happened on Picton Road and the vehicle in front of me happened to be the pilot vehicle. The camera said I was 17.66 metres behind him – it’s supposed to be 60 metres. While yes that’s the legal stopping distance for a large vehicle, if you leave that gap between myself and the pilot, you’ll have five cars cramming in in front of you. I had a pilot in front and behind me. How are you supposed to maintain that gap? I was oversize and under escort,” he said.

“Now when I go down Picton Road I need to keep a 60m distance in front of me, but if a car jumps in front of you, then what do you do? We’re over regulated and underpaid for what we do. I can make more money driving a forklift, but the fact is that I love my job and love what I do. “My boss doesn’t push us, he’s really good with us. The stress of the job doesn’t come from the customers any more, it comes from the regulators.”

Though he’s still driving at the moment, he’s planning on giving it up next financial year. “I’ve still got a few more hundred thousand kilometres in me before I hang up the boots, but I’m losing the interest and the passion for the job. I’m just over it. There’s no respect between drivers, people don’t help each other anymore. The mateship is a lot harder to find.

“I still want to be involved in the industry but I’m looking to get away from driving. I’ll always have something to do with trucks because it’s always been my passion. I might still drive locally to get my fix. But after the last three fines I thought I’m done, why do I bother doing it.”

And as issues with finding drivers continues to bite, Long says he wouldn’t personally recommend the job to anybody even though he still loves it and is passionate about the job.

“My step son is 22 next year. He was saying he wanted to be a truck driver but I told him to get a trade first. Now he’s a plumber and makes more money than me as a fourth year apprentice. He doesn’t want to be a truck driver any more, that’s music to my ears.”


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