‘Truck safety laws must be stronger and fairer’: ATA

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‘Truck safety laws must be stronger and fairer’: ATA

The draft national truck laws should be amended not only to impose stronger safety duties on businesses in the supply chain, but also to ensure their managers are treated fairly in proceedings dealing with chain of responsibility allegations, an inquiry has heard.

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The draft national truck laws should be amended not only to impose stronger safety duties on businesses in the supply chain, but also to ensure their managers are treated fairly in proceedings dealing with chain of responsibility allegations, an inquiry has heard.

The Australian Trucking Association’s (ATA) submission to Queensland Parliamentary inquiry into the Heavy Vehicle National Law Bill 2012 (HVNL Bill), proposes six sets of amendments to make the chain of responsibility provisions in the Bill ‘stronger’ and ‘fairer’, according to its chief executive, Stuart St Clair.

‘Under chain of responsibility, which is already in the existing state laws, all the parties in the supply chain have legal obligations to prevent breaches of the road transport laws,’ he said.

‘This includes trucking operators, schedulers and even the industry’s customers.’

‘For example, it is illegal for a business that hires a trucking company to demand contract terms that would require a driver to speed or work while fatigued.’

The HVNL Bill, which was recently tabled in Queensland Parliament, underpins the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR). The NHVR is scheduled to commence on 1 January 2013. An amending Bill is currently under consideration by Australia’s transport ministers.

Positive duties
 
Although the ATA ‘strongly supports’ chain of responsibility, St Clair said there are ‘problems’ with the current Bill.

‘As it’s drafted, businesses and people like loading managers will not have positive duties to stop trucks being overloaded or loaded improperly,’ he said.

‘They will only be able to be prosecuted after an offence is committed — which is too late if a truck overturns or loses its load as a result of their business practices.’

‘We say that businesses should have a positive duty to take reasonable steps at all times to prevent trucks from being overloaded or loaded unlawfully. [Our] submission puts forward detailed amendments that could be slotted straight in to the bill.’

‘Over time, robust chain of responsibility laws will drive the cowboys out of the industry and stop our customers from making demands that can’t be met without breaking the law.’ 

Innocent until proven guilty
 
St Clair said the ATA has also proposed amendments to ensure company directors, officers, the members of business partnerships and the managers of unincorporated businesses are innocent of chain of responsibility offences until proven guilty, ‘like other defendants in court’.

‘Under the existing bill, they automatically commit an offence if their business commits an offence,’ he said.

‘They are presumed guilty and must prove their innocence. This is just wrong. It’s not the Australian way.’

Work health and safety laws
 
St Clair said the recommendation that trucking business owners and managers be deemed innocent until proven guilty would align road transport law with the work health and safety laws, where the prosecution bears the burden of proving its case.

‘It has been argued that the reverse onus of proof is necessary to get off-road parties like consignors and consignees to focus on their obligations,’ he said.

‘But many of these businesses are not even aware that chain of responsibility applies to them.’

‘As a result, our submission recommends that the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator should carry out a national training and communications plan that targets the industry’s customers.’

‘In conjunction with the increased resourcing and effectiveness of chain of responsibility enforcement that will come from establishing the national regulator, our recommendations would make the road transport laws tougher and fairer as well.’

TruckWeek 2012 — 19 to 25 August
 
TruckWeek 2012 (19 to 25 August) celebrates ‘the work of Australian truck drivers’ and also highlights safety issues within the heavy vehicle industry, according to WorkCover Queensland.

‘With three-quarters of Australia’s freight transported safely every day, the week aims to bring the trucking industry together,’ the authority said.

‘Events will be held throughout the week and organisers are encouraging truckies to take part.’

The authority said that in 2011–12, there were just over 2000 new statutory claims for the Road Freight Transport industry, resulting in over $25 million paid in claim costs.

More information is available on the TruckWeek website.
 
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