If there is one thing the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator needs to be, and that’s effective and credible. Actually, that’s two things, but the two go together, and you can’t have one thing without the other.
If there was one thing lacking in all of the compliance and enforcement regulation introduced in the early noughties it was the lack of credibility and effectiveness. We were told at the time that the ‘Chain of Responsibility’ was going to be the cure all for all of our problems and that issues like fatigue, which plague the trucking industry, would be controlled by CoR.
Of course the original legislation was introduced in a scatter gun approach and on a state by state basis. Each state had different rules on different topics and very little compatibility. Surprisingly, transport operators work across borders, something which had been missed in the writing of the legislation.
The result was probably predictable. Not many people got prosecuted for doing anything wrong, and when they were, they were virtually all trucking operators and they would have probably been caught up by the existing legislation anyway.
The biggest problem with the rules was the fact that there was very little prosecution going up and down the chain, the trucking operator copped it every time, the big boys, the big customers had spent up on a few CoR consultants, had rewritten a few documents and got off scot free.
The whole idea of CoR in the first place was that it would release the trucking operations from the pressure to get the freight task done by any means in order to meet delivery schedules, whether they were fair, or even feasible, or not.
Working on the front line in a trucking operation the driver can feel a lot of pressure, from operations, from dispatchers, from end customers, etc. Very few of those got touched by the original CoR laws.
We are now two iterations of a national CoR law down the track and things are definitely improving, but are these improvements the result of the new CoR fines and punishments, or is it something else?
Are the CoR rules actually biting as they were designed to, and is this the catalyst for change we have been waiting for? The answer to this is probably yes. The emphasis on all of those involved having to demonstrate they have looked at the risks and made an effort to mitigate them, has had the some of the effect the legislation was aiming at.
The other part of the equation comes back to the effective and credible question. In the bad old days of the state by state rules, the roads authorities in each state were notoriously bad at any kind of communication with the industry. In fact, they are not much better now.
However, the job of talking about this issue has now fallen to the NHVR. There is still a lot of frustration with the speed at which they get things done, but enough time has elapsed, since the CoR reforms came through, for things to improve.
The credibility is now starting come from regular reports put out by the NHVR of another trucking operator coming under investigation and getting things like improvement notices. There is now a steady drip-drip of these kinds of announcements, in fact, there were two this week, to instil some credibility that the system is working.
That’s all we were looking for, something which was effective and credible. It only took almost twenty years.