David Smith, the Chair of the Australian Trucking Association, unveils the ATA plan to fix the fatigue rules outlines his association’s ideas to improve our fatigue management into the future.
The National Transport Commission has been reviewing the Heavy Vehicle National Law since 2019. The review has made slow progress. It won’t achieve the dramatic improvements to safety and productivity that we were seeking.
But there’s no reason to give up. The review could still deliver worthwhile changes to the driver fatigue rules, if ministers sign on to the plan we put forward in November 2023. The plan draws on the options in the NTC’s October 2023 consultation statement.
The statement looked at three areas for reforming fatigue management: record keeping, the scope of fatigue regulated heavy vehicles and enforcement. The statement did not look at changing standard hours, but I hope the NTC will be able to work on this in 2024.
We know that the rules for filling in work diaries are a confusing maze. There is no tolerance for mistakes.
The NTC concluded that simplifying work diaries would be an improvement, although the analysis said that the reduction in the time needed to fill out each page would not be material.
We told the NTC that its consultation statement understated the benefits of fixing work diaries.
The current work diary rules are an unnecessary stress on good, safe drivers. They discourage people from working in the fatigue regulated sector of the industry – or contribute to their decision to leave.
When the fatigue laws were developed, it was decided to exclude the drivers of trucks between 4.5 and 12 tonnes. 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 the local work exemption should still apply.
The extension would improve safety, but it should not occur until fatigue enforcement and penalties are fixed. We put forward a plan to do this.
We said there should be a 14 day limit on the timeframe for issuing fatigue-related infringements or court attendance notices, because old work diary breaches are not an immediate safety risk.
The NHVR would still be able to use breaches older than the 14 day limit as evidence in safety or fatigue duty prosecutions. The 14 day limit would not apply to offences detected by the safety camera network.
We said that 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.
We argued for changes to the rules for formal warnings, so an enforcement officer would have more discretion to issue a formal warning if they reasonably believed it was appropriate.
The consultation statement raised the option of restricting formal warnings to administrative offences rather than work and rest hour breaches.
We said no. Officers should be able to issue warnings for understandable breaches 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.
Finally, the ATA argued throughout the HVNL review process 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 in 2024 and set them at sensible levels.
Taken in combination, simpler work diaries, fairer enforcement, lower penalties and greater safety for smaller trucks would all be worthwhile outcomes from the HVNL review.
It just shouldn’t be taking so long. I believe that governments and the industry need to take a hard look at how reviews of the law could be done better.Image: Prime Creative Media