Roadhouses, dedicated truck stop facilities and truck driver lounges will remain open under new exemptions announced overnight by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) and the National Cabinet.
The approved exemptions will allow heavy vehicle drivers continued access to showers, restrooms and facilities to undertake their mandated fatigue management breaks.
Recent COVID-19 restrictions applied egregiously to roadside eateries, truck driver lounges and rest stops have left truck drivers with nowhere to eat, rest and go to the bathroom.
Western Australian Senator Glenn Sterle has been vocal in bringing attention to the ramifications this has had on truck drivers who are risking their lives to transport supermarket supplies and fuel to vital medical equipment and medicine.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack has been made aware of the situation.
“We have heard their concerns loud and clear and this is a common sense solution which ensures heavy vehicle drivers have access to essential amenities, can take regular breaks and eat properly whilst delivering their vital cargo," he said in a statement.
“Roadside service stations, roadhouses and truck driver lounges provide a vital function allowing truck drivers to eat, shower, use restrooms, refuel and rest comfortably before resuming their work – which is critical for them to continue efficient and safe freight distribution across the country,” said McCormack.
“I thank the AHPPC and the National Cabinet for agreeing to these common-sense changes for the benefit of our truckies.”
The exemptions will only apply to facilities where appropriate social distancing and hygiene measures can be maintained and the use of roadhouses will be strictly limited to heavy vehicle drivers.
Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport Scott Buchholz said the safety of truck drivers during these challenging times is a key consideration of Government.
“I come from a freight industry background and I know first-hand how important these facilities are. I’ve been hearing direct from industry about the great work they are doing in this difficult time and the challenges they have been facing," he said.
“We want to make sure our truckies are safe, both in terms of fatigue management and their risk of exposure to COVID-19 and this exemption gets that balance right.
“With this exemption now in place, I do ask that facilities that can open per the social distancing and hygiene requirements of this new exemption do so.
“I want to thank the heavy vehicle sector and the peak industry bodies for working cooperatively with government and raising this from the grassroots level to the attention of the Commonwealth, the AHPPC and the National Cabinet,” he said.
The Australian Logistics Council applauded the decision made by the National Cabinet.
ALC CEO Kirk Coningham acknowledged that heavy vehicle drivers were working harder than ever during the crisis to keep supplies moving, including getting goods into supermarkets and pharmacies.
"It is vital we make every effort to support their safety and wellbeing as they go about that task,” he said.
“Heavy vehicle drivers are well-aware of their fatigue management obligations, and over the past week it has been distressing to hear from some that they have been unable to access shower facilities, healthy meal choices or even just seating areas when it comes time for them to take their breaks,” Coningham continued.
“The decision made by the National Cabinet last night is a common-sense solution that ensures drivers can access the facilities they need to protect their health on the road and enhance the safety of all road users.
“Heavy vehicle drivers are playing a critical role during the COVID-19 pandemic, not just in getting supplies to consumers, but also supporting many of our vital export sectors getting their goods to ports and air freight facilities, ensuring we can keep taking our products to the world and protect Australian jobs in the process.”