National operator standard key to improving safety and future planning initiatives

For an industry that is heavily reliant on the transport and tracing of deliveries and goods there has been a lack of leadership from government driving a cohesive national approach to the capturing, interpretation, and application of learnings of data to improve economic outcomes for industry and community.

Finally, the calls for better transparency and sharing of data to improve infrastructure planning and safety are gaining traction within the industry.

ALC recently provided the National Transport Commission with its response to the Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement it has published as part of a long running review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) on behalf of Australian governments.

ALC took the opportunity to promote the concept of the adoption of a national operator standard.

ALC has noted that few operators are enrolled in the heavy vehicle accreditation schemes currently operating in Australia. Recent figures also reveal that:

• During the 12 months to the end of September 2020, 162people died from crashes involving heavy trucks. These included 95 deaths involving articulated trucks and 70 deaths involving heavy rigid trucks

• Those fatal crashes involving heavy trucks decreased by 9.5 per cent compared with the corresponding period one year earlier and decreased by an average of 4.2 per cent per year over the three years to September 2020.

Whilst the numbers have encouragingly decreased, this is likely due to a lesser number of vehicles on the road overall during COVID. It still constitutes far too many deaths.

ALC believes heavy vehicle safety would be improved if the HVNL adopted a National Operating Standard with the following elements:

1. Creating a list of operators for the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator
Operators would identify who is operating a heavy vehicle and where it is garaged. This basic information will assist the NHVR in regulating the heavy vehicle fleet.

2. Making safety management systems mandatory
Operators would also have to maintain a safety management system (SMS) meeting specified standards contained in the HVNL. Safety management systems are a well-known tool designed to manage workplace safety.

For the purposes of the HVNL, the Standards should ensure that an operator has a system compliant under the Master Code of Practice made under the HVNL. This would provide:

• The community with the greatest source of assurance that an operator has in place systems that should lead to a business that is operating safety; and
• A common basis against which safety audits can be conducted, as opposed to the current situation where operators having to undertake a number of audits using marginally different standards, which adds to cost and inconvenience but not to safety outcomes.

3. Ensuring an operator has the capital to maintain a heavy vehicle
Operators would also need to have access to a specific amount of capital so vehicles can be maintained. Any financially troubled or under-capitalised business is tempted to cut corners. In the search for cost reductions, vehicle maintenance may be neglected, which in turn increases the chance of an accident related to mechanical problems. Maintenance is classically one of the discretionary expenses cut by an operator to make ends meet.
4. Mandatory collection of data

Finally, operators would need to capture data using equipment that is compatible with standards made under the National Telematics Framework.

This would allow:
• road owners to fully understand the volumes of heavy vehicle traffic on their network;
• the NHVR to gain information on vehicle speed and the amount of time a vehicle has been in operation where there is cause to investigate;
• operators to have data that can help them develop their business and comply with their legal obligations; and
• road-owners access to the best data to make decisions as to whether a particular vehicle should access a road.

It will be an opportunity lost if the National Operating Standard concept is not fully tested as the law reform process continues.

Kirk Coningham