Australian fatigue management legislation

In 2008 the Queensland Government brought in laws with the intention of reducing crashes on our roads by way of fatigue management. Whilst this may very well have been the government’s intention, the practical effects have been very different.

The issue of monetary penalties and the loss of demerit points for failing to record a name or date in a work diary or the need for drivers to drive a cab-over are to reduce the length of the prime mover and therefore increase the length of the load that they are required to carry are just two examples of the practical effects of this fatigue management legislation. However it seems neither of these examples do anything whatsoever to reduce road safety risks associated with driver fatigue.

There is also the ongoing burden to drivers to deal with the inconsistency of laws between states and territories and the need for drivers to be familiar with different requirements around our country. Clearly this detracts from the original intention of the law, being the safer operation of heavy vehicles both to drivers and other road users.

After years of discussion between state governments, the Queensland Parliament passed the Heavy Vehicle National Law Act being the principle piece of law and as at 14 February 2013 the Heavy Vehicle National Amendment Act to resolve the finer points raised as concerns following public consultation, particularly with the transport industry.

The legislation creates a national regulator and it is intended that the laws will be mirrored by all states of Australia (except Western Australia) so that there is one set of rules rather than the complex legislative maze that currently exists. Now that the two pieces of legislation have been passed by parliament, they are set to become effective as at 1 July 2013.

The legislation, which applies to all vehicles weighing more than 4.5 tonnes is 719 pages long and seeks to address all the issues relevant to the transport industry in Australia.

In constructing this new legislation, there has been significant input from the National Transport Commission, other transport related bodies and individuals so it is hoped that this legislation, whilst being nationally consistent, will also be practical for all levels of our industry from the owner-driver to major fleets.

One key point to consider is the extent to which liability can be imposed under the new laws, not just on the driver but other related parties. The responsibility now also extends to employers and other related entities as they will need to show that they took reasonable steps to ensure that drivers don’t speed by imposing unrealistic time limits on drivers etc.

The legislation establishes the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, which is the single administrator and national point of contact for heavy vehicle operators rather than state transport authorities as has previously been the case.

All applications for mass management, maintenance management, basic fatigue management and advanced fatigue management will be through the national regulator. Registration, licensing and issues to do with the carriage of dangerous goods will remain the responsibility of the states and state police and authorised officers will continue to enforce heavy vehicle offences though this will all be under the new national laws.

The real question is now what do these laws mean for you. There are a number of key changes that we will address in future issues though the first point that is immediately relevant is the focus by the government on fatigue management. There have been significant increases in monetary penalties for breaches of hours and thankfully a reduction in penalties for minor unrelated fatigue management offences such as typographical errors in the recording of work diaries.

We will ensure that in further editions we will outline some key changes created by the new laws relating to drivers and owners as this is a major change for the transport industry as a whole.

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