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Work diaries: Fatigue management or are they just a “money grab”?

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When a NSW truck driver contacted Big Rigs to vent his frustration at being fined for a work diary breach, we shared his story online and it garnered a huge reaction, with many truckies sharing similar stories.

Having spent the past 30 years behind the wheel of a truck, the driver at the centre of the story had never received so much as a speeding fine – until last month, when he was stung with a $454 infringement.

The driver works from Sunday to Tuesday and is off for the rest of the week. He does a 1.5 hour run on Sunday to pick up his load, then after an 8.5 hour break, sets off for 11 hours on the Monday. And therein lies the problem, 12.5 hours in a 24-hour period. We should also note that he has a 16 hour break before getting back behind the wheel on a Tuesday.

“These are the hours that I’ve got to get the job done. That’s why I go on the Sunday and get loaded up. If I wasn’t having my breaks, I would accept it. I have that big amount of rest in between. What do they want me to do? Stop when I’m only 30 minutes from the depot? Am I supposed to stop on the side of the road for hours just so I can then drive the last half hour? When you’re out in the bush, half an hour is nothing,” he said.

Unfortunately, we are hearing stories like this all the time. After posting his story on our Facebook page, it was inundated with responses from other drivers who felt they’d also been hard done by.

“Myself and another of my drivers got stung at Kempsey pads. 1.5hr breach over 3 days. They counted back even though we had our mandatory breaks. We each got fined $4850 and couldn’t appeal it because the courts was closed due to the COVID. And they wonder why we hate NSW RTA,” wrote Lee Powe.

“Was fined $338 for an accidentally missed yellow page in my book. I was brand new, literally on my first logbook and I was absolutely packing it. No matter the apologies or explaining I’m very green, still got the fine. The system is a complete joke, revenue in the name of safety,” commented Michael Blythe.

For Frankie Rosco, there was no sympathy for an honest mistake. “$648 for going over by 15 min but when I told them I crossed a time zone and I didn’t realise when calculating hrs, they told me they don’t care, tell the judge. Money hungry grubs.”

William Joseph added he’d been done for something that happened nearly a month prior. “I got $500 for 30mins over in some obscure 24hr period on a page 4 weeks old,” he said.

Grant Baines wrote, “Lost count of the amount of fines or defects over the years. From having a clearance light out to leaving a letter off a suburb in spelling it. Had officers even after they couldn’t find a fineable offence tell me I should have put a time of 9.12am down instead of 9.15 quarter hour blocks in your diary and made such an effort and I just keep saying write it out and ‘I’ll see you in court’, finally told me to get going and I’ll be looking for you.”

And the stories like these go on and on and on. The current approach to fatigue management and work diaries has been the bane of many truck drivers for a long time.

Truckie turned pollie, Labor Senator for Western Australia and Shadow Assistant Minister for Road Safety, Glenn Sterle, believes enough is enough. “The authorities are out of order. They are absolutely relentless and under the guise of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL), which is supposed to aid road safety, this cannot be serious,” he said, pointing to an example of a driver fined $687 for abbreviating Coffs Harbour. “He wrote ‘Hbr’ for ‘Harbour’, where the hell is that contributing to improved road safety. It’s nothing short of white-collar crime. It is disgraceful and I’m not going to let this one lie. This needs to go all the way up the supply chain. I want to find a minister who can tell me how this goes on. Absolutely go and get the drivers who are flaunting road safety, but this is just a cash grab.”

According to Sterle, the eastern states should look to the west, which he said gives its drivers a greater degree of flexibility. “Why I love the WA approach is because it was designed by truck drivers, not by experts sitting somewhere in government departments. There’s flexibility here in the west. One size fits all is hard. Rather than throwing rocks at us over here in the west, they should ask drivers if they would like to keep their fatigue management or use ours.”

Though he reiterates that there does need to be some sort of system in place. “We can’t go back to the old days where drivers were expected to be on the road for a ridiculous amount of hours. We do need safety nets where drivers can’t be forced to do unreasonable hours. I’m all for safety on our roads and looking after our drivers. But what I’ve seen with the way law enforcement operates, it’s a money grab and is criminality at its worst. How is fining a driver and taking half their week’s pay for not ticking a box or misspelling a word in the best interest of road safety,” Sterle said.

“I think it’s time now to consult more broadly with those men and women that have their hands on the steering wheel. It’s now time to ask, have we got this right and what doweneedtodotofixit?Is there an opportunity to use new technology? And there needs to be far better flexibility. Go and get the ones that are blatantly breaking the law but stop picking on the hard-working drivers for these little misdemeanours that don’t affect road safety one little bit. I’m all for safety absolutely, but I’m disgusted at some of the ways it is enforced.”

The recent ‘Voice of the Driver’ campaign run by the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) and Big Rigs, gave truckies the chance to provide feedback on the proposed fatigue laws as outlined in the HVNL review Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS). ATA Acting CEO Bill McKinley revealed that the problems with current fatigue laws were expressed very clearly by drivers. “If anyone on the road or anyone in the supply chain does the wrong thing and commits a serious safety breach, then the law needs to deal with them. That’s what the public expects and what we as an industry should expect. But drivers shouldn’t receive random fines for trying to do the right thing. It’s very easy for anyone to simply make a mistake.”

The ATA is currently developing its submission to the HVNL review on fatigue issues. McKinley explained, “The submission will focus on greatly simplifying paperwork requirements for drivers and will focus on massively reducing penalties for minor paperwork offences. We will also be proposing changes that will ensure that work diary apps can become readily available and can be used by any driver whether they are a professional truck driver or they drive a truck as part of another job with a company outside of the trucking industry.

“The NHVR is in the process of working on approvals for electronic work diaries, however that approval process and those work diaries that are involved are very sophisticated. The ATA’s response to the fatigue part of it will propose a model that will enable drivers to do that simply and we are also proposing a reduction in those massive penalties drivers are being hit with.”

McKinley added that by making work diaries simpler, drivers would be less likely to receive an infringement. “And if you do get an infringement, the amount would be fair, which it’s not at the moment. Currently, for a driver getting an infringement, it happens randomly. Drivers can’t seem to control it, no matter how careful they are, they can still get an infringement. The current fatigue rules provide a random series of hoops that drivers have to go through. It doesn’t add to safety and discourages people from working, or continuing to work, as truck drivers.

“What the ATA wants are laws that promote safety. People that do the wrong thing should expect that it will be dealt with, but if they are doing the right thing, the paperwork and the rules need to be simpler. We’ve proposed that if there is no doubt about anything on a work diary page, it should be taken to comply. If a driver stops and there is no doubt that what is written is where they stopped, they shouldn’t get a fine for misspelling the address.”

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