Can the National Heavy Vehicle Law get any heavier?

04 February 2019

Readers will be aware that significant changes to the Chain of Responsibility (CoR) provisions under the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) came into effect on 1 October 2018.

The New Year welcomes some far reaching reforms. The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) announced at the end of 2018 that a new set of standards and procedures had been approved by the NHVR including the development of a registered Industry Master Code of Practice (Master Code) and the release of the National Compliance and Enforcement Policy (Policy).

These announcements highlight the renewed focus on compliance and enforcement of obligations under the HVNL and the need for members of the supply chain to be aware of those obligations. In short, the HVNL is in for an overhaul.

Master Code of Practice

The Master Code is an industry code of practice registered in accordance with the requirements of the HVNL, developed by the Australian Trucking Association and the Australian Logistics Council and endorsed by the NHVR. The Master Code is available for download from the NHVR’s website.

The Master Code may be adopted voluntarily by members of the supply chain and is designed to act as a guide to assist with (but not guarantee) improvements to safety and compliance with the HVNL. The Master Code includes chapters covering topics such as:

  • speed compliance
  • driver fatigue management
  • mass, dimension and loading
  • vehicle standards

Additionally, section 632A of the HVNL provides that a registered industry code (such as the Master Code) may be used in proceedings as evidence of whether or not a duty or obligation under the HVNL has been complied with. A court may have regard to the registered industry code in determining what is known about a hazard or risk, risk assessment or risk control and may rely on the registered industry code in determining what actions are reasonably practicable in circumstances to which the code relates. However, while the Master Code may be a useful guide in these circumstances, courts will determine if a breach of the HVNL has occurred having regard to all the circumstances of the case and the evidence presented.

While the Master Code is a registered industry code it is only one option available to assist members of the supply chain in compliance with their HVNL obligations and does not guarantee compliance with those obligations. In implementing practices and procedures designed to ensure compliance with the HVNL, members of the supply chain will need to consider the specific provisions of the HVNL (including any regulations) as well as the individual circumstances applicable to their operations. This is where Rigby Cooke’s experienced Transport and Logistics team can assist you.

National Compliance and Enforcement Policy

The Policy was released at the end of 2018 by the NHVR and was heralded by CEO Sal Petroccitto saying:

“Our transport enforcement agencies directly interact with heavy vehicle drivers and operators more than 320,000 times a year and today the NHVR has released a Policy which outlines how those interactions will be more targeted and risk-based.”

The Policy sets out the behaviours on which the NHVR and partner agencies will focus and the likely responses to those behaviours. The Policy states that the NHVR will respond to behaviours ranging from willing compliance to recidivist non-compliance with responses ranging from industry education to sanctions and prosecutions.

Responses to non-compliance will be proportionate to the risk to safety and compliance behaviour of the member of the supply chain in each circumstance and will increase in severity as the level of non-compliance increases. The NHVR will also undertake on and off-road activities to ensure compliance with activities ranging from fixed inspection sites to targeted investigations.

The NHVR’s renewed focus on a compliance and risk-based approach to enforcement of the HVNL serves to illustrate the need for members of the supply chain to be aware of their obligations and to have in place appropriate practices and procedures to ensure compliance.

Review of the HVNL

The National Transport Commission (NTC) has also been working on a review of the HVNL. The terms of reference of the review were approved in November 2018 and a panel of experts was appointed. The scope and purpose of the review includes (but is not limited to):

  • producing a law regulating the use of heavy vehicles that will improve safety for road users
  • supporting productivity and innovation
  • simplifying the HVNL
  • supporting the use of new technologies and operating methods
  • providing flexible, outcome-focussed compliance options
  • determining whether the objects of the HVNL remain appropriate and clear and are being fulfilled
  • achieving closer alignment with Work Health and Safety laws
  • increasing national consistency of heavy vehicle regulation
  • ensuring heavy vehicle regulation is able to adapt and apply appropriately to remote, regional and urban areas

The panel of experts is about to convene with further updates on the conduct of the review to be provided after this meeting. The panel of experts will consult with the Commonwealth, State, Territory and local governments, the NHVR, industry associations and enforcement agencies with the review expected to be completed by the end of 2019.