Two of Australia’s major representative trucking bodies have supported the review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL), which was announced by the federal transport minister yesterday evening.
Michael McCormack, who is both the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, announced a comprehensive review to “boost national road safety and productivity delivery.”
He commented that the Heavy Vehicle National Law, in its current form “falls short of being truly national and is overly prescriptive and complicated.”
He said that the first version of the HVNL, which was introduced in 2012, was an improvement on the previous situation as several different Australian jurisdictions had their own heavy vehicle laws. However, the existing HVNL “needs to be comprehensively overhauled,” he added.
The review will involve consultation with industry and will focus on matters such as safe and efficient access, fatigue management, accreditation for safe operations, telematics, technology and data.
“The review will complement other Government priorities such as the development of the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy and the recently announced National Road Safety Governance review,” he added.
Industry welcomes review
Membership-based body NatRoad, which represents trucking business owners, welcomed the review. Warren Clark, CEO of NatRoad said, “We must introduce a risk-based regulatory system. We must move away from the approach of mere compliance with specific rules. A newly framed HVNL should be about the management of risk. This is especially the case with the fatigue management provisions of the HVNL, which contain a vast array of highly prescriptive elements, but for example, do not lead to the identification and control of impairment based on being fatigued. The current law can lead to a perverse outcome of being compliant but not always safe.”
Clark urged that the HVNL should be more focused on safety, less concerned with “revenue raising,” be simpler and “more accessible for the thousands of operators who must comply.”
Also voicing its support was the Australian Trucking Association, which represents the state-based trucking associations such as Road Freight NSW and TransafeWA among others, and large businesses like Australia Post and Toll.
The Australian Trucking Association argued that the HVNL is too long, prescriptive and complicated.
“At 633 pages, the national truck law is more than three times the length of the Civil Aviation Act, which governs air travel, and more than four times the length of the Rail Safety National Law, which regulates train safety… the national truck law needs to be looked at again from first principles, and the review announced today will deliver the back to basics approach that we so desperately need,” said Association chairman Geoff Crouch.
The Association argued that the key issues that must be considered are work and rest hours, heavy vehicle access approvals, “red tape,” performance-based standards, the use of technology and data for regulatory purposes and heavy vehicle accreditation.
Reviewing the law
The review will be carried out by the National Transport Commission, a statutory body set up to advise Australian governments. The Commission has appointed an independent expert panel from organizations such as the state-based trucking associations, government bodies and universities.
According to the Commission’s terms of reference, the purpose of the review is to deliver improved road safety, increased economic productivity, a simplification both of the HVNL and its administration, support for new technologies and ways of operating, and to provide outcome-focused compliance options.
The Commission’s review will consider whether the objects of the HVNL remain appropriate and clear; the efficacy of the HVNL in fulfilling its objects; closer alignment with the model Work Health and Safety Law; the varied freight task; the capacity of everyone involved with road freight to comply with the HVNL; opportunities to make the low easier to administer and generally simplify it, and how the law can accommodate new business models, technologies and data.
What is the HVNL?
The HVNL consists of a main piece of legislation, five subsidiary regulations along with codes of practice. It was implemented in its current form in October 2018. As Australia has a federal system of governance, one state was tasked with enacting a “host” law that the other jurisdictions substantially copied. Or, at least, that was the plan. Queensland enacted the host law; however, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory decided to delay implementation of the HVNL while Western Australia decided not to adopt it at all.
Because one of the purposes of the HVNL was to introduce a single system in order to reduce the compliance costs for business, it can be argued that it has already failed to achieve that purpose. The other purposes of the law were to manage the impact of heavy vehicles on the environment, road infrastructure and public amenity; and to promote efficiency.
The HVNL addresses standards that heavy vehicles must meet before they can use Australian roads, sets maximum mass and dimensions, puts rules on securing and restraining loads, sets out the chain of responsibility, addresses the issues of fatigued drivers operating heavy vehicles, creates a variety of offences and sets out a single system of penalties. It also establishes the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, which administers the law.