The truck driver fatigue laws should be fixed to deliver simpler work diaries, sensible enforcement, fairer penalties and greater safety for smaller trucks, Australian Trucking Association (ATA) chair David Smith said today.
In its latest submission to the National Transport Commission (NTC) in response to its consultation regulation impact statement on reforms to the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL), the ATA said the current 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 said.
“The work diary rules discourage people from working in the fatigue-regulated sector of the industry or contribute to their decision to leave.”
Smith said 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 said.
“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.”
Smith also called for 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 said the ATA had argued throughout the review that record keeping and work and rest hour penalties are too high.
“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 said.
Smith said the reforms would enable governments to extend the scope of the fatigue laws to cover trucks weighing between 4.5 and 12 tonnes.
“When the current truck driver fatigue laws were developed, it was decided to exclude the drivers of smaller trucks. At the time, it was assumed that long working hours and fatigue were less of a problem for these drivers.
“We now know 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.
“The extension would improve safety for the drivers of these trucks and everyone else using the road.”
In addition to fatigue management, the NTC consultation statement looked at potential changes to the 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 said.
“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 6 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 said there was more work 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,” he said.
The NTC said the goal of the long-running reform process is to simplify the law to enhance safety while delivering industry productivity and flexibility.
The package of legislation and core regulations is expected to be presented to ministers in July 2024.