Recent National Heavy Vehicle Regulator’s prosecution case – a timely reminder for all companies and staff on their Primary Duty

15 December 2023

On 4 December 2023, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator’s (Regulator) prosecution case against a transport company and some of its executives, for various breaches of the National Heavy Vehicle Law (NHVL) – including the most serious being Category 1 breaches – was heard at the Downing Centre Court in New South Wales. The case concerned the incident on the Eastern Freeway in April 2020 where four Victoria Police officers were killed whilst conducting a roadside intercept.

The transport company was found to be a party in the Chain of Responsibility (CoR) as an operator, and the National Operations Manager and Managing Director are two of the executives also prosecuted for, amongst other things, NHVL breaches including breaches of the Primary Duty (the obligation to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable the safety of your transport activities).

In the prosecution case, driving whilst fatigued featured prominently. Fatigue is not just a responsibility of the driver, but of everyone within the entire supply chain, including those who schedule runs, set drivers’ work hours, and negotiate and implement contract delivery deadlines. It is a legal duty of supply chain participants to support drivers in their fatigue management at all times. Every second a fatigued driver is on the road is a second closer to the possibility of significant injury or death.

Apart from the company and the Managing Director receiving significant monetary fines, the National Operations Manager was also found guilty of breaching the Primary Duty and faces a possible two-year custodial sentence at the sentencing hearing listed for 23 January 2024.

Whilst many will say this is the Regulator baring its teeth, given that the fatal incident killed four Victoria Police officers who were simply doing their job, most will be glad to see the Regulator snarling about incidents like this. What is also sobering, is the fact that it could have been anyone on the side of the road that evening – someone changing a tyre or stopping for a rest break, a vehicle breakdown or even a medical emergency.

The cornerstones of the NHVL in speed, mass, fatigue and load restraint insofar as they apply to heavy vehicles over 4.5T on our roads, coupled with the Primary Duty to ensure safety on our roads, are laws very few would dare quibble with.

To make sure your company and its officers and staff do not fall foul of NHVL provisions and that you comply with the NHVL in terms of how you participate in the supply chain, operate your business, contract with others and engage with your staff, it is critical that you have the appropriate policies, procedures and training in place to ensure you comply with your CoR and NHVL obligations.

Contact us

If you would like to know more about NHVL and how to comply, please contact Elizabeth Guerra-Stolfa, Lead Partner of Rigby Cooke Lawyers’ Transport & Logistics group.

Disclaimer: This publication contains comments of a general nature only and is provided as an information service. It is not intended to be relied upon, nor is it a substitute for specific professional advice. No responsibility can be accepted by Rigby Cooke Lawyers or the authors for loss occasioned to any person doing anything as a result of any material in this publication.

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