In my lifetime, the last 18 months have been the most challenging I have experienced in many ways due to the serious impacts and challenges that Covid-19 has had and continues to have on all aspects on our personal and work lives.
It’s a huge credit to the road transport sector that it has played a vital and essential role in assisting the Australian community to navigate this constantly changing environment.
Importantly, our industry and supply chains continue to be stoic in their approach to ensuring the best health and safety outcome are pursued for our drivers and others who have daily interactions with each other.
During this time, the need for improved national consistency and communication was under the spotlight for governments, as our industry and communities adapted to the constantly changing and varied border travel and health requirements across states.
This hasn’t always been perfect but where possible, the NHVR has contributed on the sector’s behalf to make things as easy as possible.
We have also continued to engage closely with our industry despite not being able to travel and have really enjoyed getting out on the road in the last few weeks to talk to our operators and drivers.
Critically, the last year taught us important lessons about focusing on the issues that matter – like getting home safely to our families and looking out for one another. As we move into the new year, it is essential that these lessons are top of mind and influence our decisions and actions.
Below are some of my key priorities for 2022.
New workable law is our shared goal
There is no doubt that getting a new heavy vehicle law in place that is simpler, targets the heart of problems and helps business improve is a priority for all of us and will continue to be in 2022.
In practical terms, safety is the number one priority and this includes allowing drivers to get adequate and quality rest and that they are fit to drive. We are very much focused on a cultural shift away from “the book says I have to stop” to “I am tired and have the support behind me to stop and rest”.
This includes adopting innovative approaches to safety, regulation, technology and data to meet the changing demands of our industry and environment and pursuing more practical approaches to opening up network access including better understanding and addressing infrastructure risks.
Put simply, making better and easier regulation is why we have a national regulator. We can’t keep doing more of the same and expecting better results.
While we work with industry and policymakers to influence outcomes to get our new law right, at the regulator we will continue to build on our flexible and risk-based approaches to help you run your business safely and efficiently.
Education and enforcement working together
Over the last year, we have been able to continue to deliver on our modern regulatory approach, that targets the greatest safety risks and uses innovative approaches to drive improved safety behaviours.
This was a key feature of our heavy vehicle safety strategy and action plan released in October 2021. We are using data and intelligence to ensure we better intercept companies where we need to intervene. We are starting to use a greater range of education and advice material to address minor and non-safety related offences.
We will continue to build on this and reduce on-road interactions and individual incidents as much as possible to focus on operator fleet performance.
This approach also includes utilising our Chain of Responsibility provisions where we see high risk and repeat safety issues. While enforcement is sometimes necessary – there are currently 19 CoR prosecutions underway – in cases where court-imposed fines are issued for non-fatal related cases (i.e mass breaches) we try to use Enforceable Undertakings and Supervisory Intervention Orders. There have been nine Enforceable Undertakings and five Supervisory Intervention Orders issued to date.
These tools enable us to enter into an agreement with the company to invest in improving safety practices or developing tools that will deliver a benefit to the entire industry and other road users. This partnership works where both parties are committed to achieving better outcomes and that is our goal.
In 2022, I’m looking forward to sharing safety insights such as safety defect information, benchmarks and age and types of vehicles travelling on the network with individual operators through the NHVR Portal. This gives industry the ability to see where they sit on a national average and identify areas for improvement and where they are performing well.
Consistency and certainty – important and builds confidence
We continue to strive towards reducing operating barriers for industry as we transition front-line heavy vehicle regulatory services from NSW to the NHVR, with Queensland to follow in 2023, joining South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and ACT.
This transition will enable the regulator to provide consistent borderless regulation right across the eastern part of the country.
Consistency and certainty are also the critical drivers in our approach to opening up network access for safer and more efficient vehicles.
We have made good headway in starting to fill a critical gap in improving our understanding of the condition of local government infrastructure through our Strategic Local Government Asset Assessment Project.
We have worked with road managers to assess more than 300 assets to date (which has resulted in improved access) and will kick off assessments of more than 1000 assets in January 2022.
We are also building digital tools for road managers such as a rapid bridge assessment tool to enable road managers to do their own automated assessments moving forward and ultimately reduce turnaround times and the need for permits.
Complementing this work is our National Spatial Platform which will provide a new single map of the enforceable heavy vehicle network. It will provide more accurate mapping and better ‘snap’ vehicles to approved networks. Trials of the platform are underway for release in 2022.
Our national notice program will continue to roll out to reduce inconsistent operating conditions across borders, as well as remove unnecessary and impractical conditions. The National Road Train Prime Mover Mass and Dimension Exemption Notice for example, has brought about significant efficiencies for operators by reducing the need to decouple to complete last mile journeys.
Safety technology and innovation improves performance
We have some very exciting opportunities ahead of us with the introduction of life saving technology such as Fatigue and Distraction Detection Technology and in working together to reduce barriers and support the uptake of safer and cleaner vehicles and technology – such as Euro VI. We know this is going to be a major focus for our industry as we move into the new year.
I also encourage you to apply for our seventh round of the Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiative (HVSI), with applications open until February 2022. It is supported by the Federal Government and is focused on delivering projects that have been identified by our industry and the community. The HVSI program has provided more than $28 million to fund close to 120 projects over the past six years.
Thank you for your support throughout 2021. Merry Christmas and for those of you who are able to take a break, I hope you enjoy time spent with your loved ones.
Stay safe on the roads, and I look forward to continuing to work together in the new year to deliver a safe and profitable heavy vehicle road transport task.