One country, one rule book: is 2020 the year?

The review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) currently being undertaken by the National Transport Commission (NTC) will be a matter of continued interest to readers of Prime Mover.

In some respects, the ‘N’ in the acronym is a misnomer, because Western Australia and the Northern Territory have still not adopted the law within their own borders.

This leads to inefficiencies and frustrations for logistics companies operating across multiple jurisdictions.

Could 2020 be the year that sets the HVNL on path to delivering what industry has wanted for so long – a truly national, consistent approach to heavy vehicle safety?

Throughout its participation in the review, ALC has set out opportunities to improve the operation of the HVNL by directly addressing the concerns some jurisdictions have expressed about the operation of the law.

One of these relates to fatigue management.

ALC believes that the requirement to maintain paper diaries is outdated – and that the Advanced Fatigue Management/Basic Fatigue Management approach presently contained in the HVNL is not operating effectively.

It is important to learn from different approaches, and in this particular instance, ALC believes it is more appropriate for an updated HVNL to adopt the Western Australian approach to managing fatigue, which is found in the state’s OHS legislation.

This would provide added flexibility for operators, and address one of the major concerns that have thus far prevented WA’s participation in the HVNL.

Where driving time still needs to be recorded, electronic work diaries compliant with the Telematics Data Dictionary made for the purposes of the National Telematics Framework (and not bespoke standards made by the NHVR) should be adopted as part of the HVNL.

If this is done, then ‘misdemeanour’ type offences designed to penalise minor infractions of rules can be removed from the law.

More generally, there may also be grounds to permit the Regulator to prescribe (by statutory instrument) a requirement for operators to carry specific pieces of equipment that are proven to be a cost effective way to improve safety outcomes.

This could include technology solutions capable of ensuring drivers are not fatigued while operating heavy vehicles.

Many industry participants have also emphasised the need for greater national consistency to enforcement of the HVNL.

Under current arrangements, there are several heavy vehicle enforcement bodies, including the NHVR, authorised officers, state and territory road authorities and state and territory based police.

This gives rise to an obvious challenge around consistency, with each of these bodies possessing their own enforcement approaches and powers.

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator’s  ‘compliance by education’ philosophy can often be undermined if local police and state and territory road authorities don’t share the same viewpoint.

This is especially relevant when it comes to police, with many operators citing examples where minor infractions of the law (such as misspelling place names in work diaries) are seized upon by over-zealous enforcement personnel.

This is despite the fact that there is plainly no relationship between a minor spelling error and safety outcomes.

The independence and professionalism of the police must always be respected. However, powers should be only exercised on the basis of knowledge.

ALC believes that state police forces should only be eligible to enforce HVNL provisions if they have undergone suitable training provided by the NHVR.

ALC also believes the NHVR and state police forces should enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to establish how and when police officers should exercise the powers vested in them by the HVNL.

It follows then that ALC supports the continued transfer of inspectors from jurisdictions to the NHVR, as it is more likely that consistent decision making will occur if inspectors are in an employer-employee relationship with the regulator, working to one set of working instructions.

Ensuring the HVNL that emerges from the review process addresses the two priorities set out above will go a long way to helping realise the original ambition of the law – one country, one rule book.

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