Following his distinguished 22-year career in the Australian military, John Gilbert OAM spent the next decade using his skills and experience in a number of roles with registered training organisations and as the member services officer at the Victorian Transport Association (VTA).
For the past six years John has filled the role of Manager of Stakeholder Relations and Customer Experience for the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) where he has been particularly active in engaging with all levels of industry and government in the take up of the broader NHVR policies around safety and productivity in the road transport industry.
John has recruited a team of specialists who promote engagement at the local ‘grass roots’ level. He and his team have become familiar faces at numerous industry forums and conferences and have embarked on an innovative strategy of arranging roadside ‘information sessions’ at truck stops to engage directly with transport drivers who are out on the road.
To maximise the opportunities for contact these truck stop sessions are often held at different hours including through to midnight or 2.00am, the hours many truck drivers really work.
Interestingly, through these activities it has become clear there are a wide range of commercial vehicle operators who may not realise they come under the auspices of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL).
“There is a cross section of people in the category starting at the 4.5 tonne minimum GVW such as market gardeners, landscapers, horse transporters, and parts distributors who may not yet be aware they have responsibilities under the HVNL and CoR (Chain of Responsibility) regulation,” says John.
These are operators who don’t necessarily belong to any associations or groups and could slip through the cracks which is why the NHVR is actively seeking them out by holding roadside information sessions in an attempt to engage with more of those operators as well as transport operators in general.
As the Regulator it’s about information and education according to John. He says it’s about making drivers aware that they actually come under the HVNL.
“It’s about listening to them and then working with them to understand their responsibilities. Roadside information days are a fantastic opportunity for drivers to just drop in and talk about a range of issues,” he says.
“Our people are professional, well presented and happy to listen to all concerns. Drivers should never be hesitant to come up to us and ask if they are filling out their logbook correctly. We get that quite regularly and it’s our role to assist.”
According to John, the overarching requirement for his team members is to be good communicators.
“I’m very proud of my team. They do a wonderful job out there talking to people including at ‘toolbox’ sessions. Any organisation that runs a ‘toolbox’ and wants us to come along and talk about what we are doing as the Regulator, if we can fit it into the schedule we’ll be there.”
The NHVR engagement team have taken on a task that every professional driver will applaud and support: addressing the impact of caravans on the road, especially at rest stops.
“A lot of truck drivers don’t realise that we are out talking to caravaners at their own shows and advising them they have to be aware about taking up parking bays required by truck drivers,” he says. “Much of what we hear on the side of the road from truck drivers is in relation to caravaners because it is a concern if a driver needs to take a rest break and can’t park because of the caravans. We need to get the message out and we are trying to do exactly that.”
The NHVR has now had its display at two caravan ‘roundups’ and more are planned according to John.
“We explain to them the fatigue management rules truck drivers have to follow and why it is so important not to take over truck stops and to leave space for truck drivers,” he says.
“All of those sessions have been really well received and we found some caravaners didn’t realise that a truck driver had a law to comply with when it comes to his or her fatigue.”
John is delighted with the positive relationship that has developed between truck drivers and NHVR personnel in South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and the ACT – the states that to date have ‘transitioned’ to having NHVR officers perform roadside intercepts. A core value of the NHVR people is to treat truck operators as ‘customers’.
“A customer should have a good experience from any interaction, even if they ultimately get ‘pinged’. In those states drivers can see a definite difference in attitude. They are treated professionally, spoken to politely and our officers are more than happy to explain about ways of rectifying anything picked up on the side of the road. I think they do a wonderful job out there talking to people.”
John and his team are mindful that communication has to work two ways in order to be effective.
“At the end of the day it’s about us talking to a driver, and listening to the driver and bringing that information back to the NHVR. It’s a long journey but when we respect drivers and recognise they are doing a job we’ll see the results in attitude changes across the board.”