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NTC releases HVNL review impact statement

25 June 20 - In the News

Publication: Australasian Transport News (ATN)
Publisher: Bauer Trader Media
Publication date: 25/06/20

Transport and logistics gains a look at the possible regulatory future with the National Transport Commission (NTC) releasing a consultation regulation impact statement for a reformed Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL).

According to federal transport minister Michael McCormack, his government recognises the importance of simplifying the legislation for heavy vehicle operators, regulators and government.

"We have heard the many concerns from heavy vehicle operators and peak bodies about the current HVNL," McCormack says.

"There is no doubt the HVNL needs significant improvement and through this review initiated by the Transport and Infrastructure Council of COAG, the NTC is examining the best options to achieve this.

"This is welcome progress and I strongly encourage anyone interested to have their say by making a submission to help shape this critical review.

"The valuable consultations being held with stakeholders in rural, regional and urban areas as part of the review span representatives of the trucking and related industries, policy and law enforcement agencies, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, all three tiers of government and the community.

"The Australian government will monitor the progress of the NTC review and how we can best enhance road safety and productivity for our heavy vehicle sector through a new and improved HVNL."

Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport Scott Buchholz welcomes the progress to simplify the legislation, particularly for heavy vehicle operators.

"Having spent 20 years in the trucking industry, I know all too well the difficulties operators have with the current legislation," Buchholz says.

"Our dedicated truck drivers have been working around the clock to keep our nation moving and shelves stocked during Covid-19 and this review is an opportunity to gain better outcomes for them."

Meanwhile, just before the RIS was released, noted transport lawyer and Holding Redlich partner Nathan Cecil examined the National Transport Commission’s (NTC’s) wishlist as part of the current HVNL review.

"The NTC has issued a number of 'suggested policy option' papers which provide good insight into areas for the potential development of the HVNL," Cecil notes.

"The policy papers are intended to be used for discussion, as part of determining the recommendations that will ultimately be put to ministers for the development of the HVNL."

Here are his comments on major aspects of the NTC’s case:

Elevate safety to be the primary objective

Cecil sees the NTC rejecting the notion that though the HVNL objectives makes ‘safety’ secondary to ‘productivity’.

"The recommendation is therefore to make it explicit that safety is the primary concern and productivity and any other objective secondary," Cecil says.

"One concern about this approach is that it might mean that the regulators focus only on safety or on safety to the exclusion of other considerations – where productivity gains were one of the big unfulfilled promises of the HVNL.

"We think that the desired outcome could be achieved without downgrading productivity concerns, by providing that productivity cannot come at the expense of safety."

Introduce a remote zone

With Western Australia and the Northern Territory opting out of the HVNL, the law has been criticised for inflexibility in the face of geographic imperatives for remote or long-distance haulage.

"The suggestion here is that specific, and likely more flexible, fatigue management options are opened up for remote driving operations," Cecil says.

"This might be offset by additional requirements for e.g. roadworthiness fitness for duty requirements and/or driver training and competency, to balance the risk associated with more flexible fatigue regimes."

Apply key parts of WA fatigue management

"What? Adopt something from the West!? That's right," Cecil says.

"Fatigue management under the HVNL is inflexible, highly prescriptive in terms of work/rest hours and administratively burdensome in terms of the requirement to complete mandatory work diaries etc.

"Further, it is (slowly being) recognised that issuing infringements for people not completing their registration number in their work diary (or other similar administrative matters that are technically breaches of the law) is probably not producing amazing safety outcomes.

"The suggestion is for more flexibility to the management of fatigue, including the ability to slightly exceed prescribed hours due to unforeseen circumstances, such as completely unpredicted delays.

"Any variation would only be allowed to be minor and reasonable and the variation mechanism would not be permitted to be abused and used as a routine occurrence.

"It is also suggested that the fixed form of the mandatory work diary is scrapped and replaced with a general requirement to keep driving records in whatever form works for you.

"The trade-off might be additional requirements for fatigue management plans, fitness to drive assessments and fatigue management training."

Duty to ensure driver competency

With recognition growing of shortfalls in driver training and therefore competence, the focus is on improving heavy vehicle licencing procedures.

"This would include having proper knowledge of the vehicle, its operation and likely driving conditions; the skills to do each component task of loading, operating and unloading the vehicle safely and the experience to conduct those activities in the full range of road, operating and environmental conditions likely to be encountered," Cecil says.

More information on the review is available here.

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