Are you roadworthy?

14 November 2016

A recent case in the Supreme Court of South Australia has highlighted the consequences for employers who allow their employees to drive unroadworthy vehicles.


Peter Colbert, sole director of a transport company, was convicted of manslaughter for allowing one of his workers to drive a truck that was known to have faulty brakes. The driver was involved in an accident in which he was unable to bring to vehicle to a stop at an intersection and fatally collided with a pole.

The truck involved in this incident had a history of mechanical problems, was poorly maintained and suffered repeated brake failures. On a number of occasions Mr Colbert refused to have parts of the braking system replaced in accordance with his mechanic’s advice.

The prosecution provided evidence that Mr Colbert had also endangered the life of another employee, who had driven the same vehicle within a week of the accident. Whilst driving the vehicle, the employee experienced a ‘near miss’ due to inadequate braking force. The court heard that three employees had complained to Mr Colbert about the danger of the vehicle due to its defective brakes. Despite these reports, Mr Colbert took no action to check, service or repair the vehicle nor was it suspended from service.


Mr Colbert was initially found guilty of manslaughter in March 2014 being sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. Mr Colbert appealed the decision and was sentenced to 10 years jail with a non-parole period of more than seven years.

In sentencing, Justice Malcolm Blue noted that while Mr Colbert did not intend to cause harm, he permitted his employees to drive the truck knowing that it was endangering their lives.

The lesson

This case is a poignant reminder that owners of transport businesses are responsible for the safety of their employees and the state of the company’s vehicles. Proper maintenance of a heavy vehicle fleet is of the utmost importance for transport companies and essential for the safety of truck drivers. The case also illustrates that a company director cannot avoid liability by claiming that a mechanic was responsible for the maintenance of the vehicles. Ultimately, it is the director who must ensure that the vehicles are roadworthy.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 edition of InTransit. Other articles in this newsletter included:

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