There are no fatigue rules set in stone, as a review of the law around trucking is hoped to take managing fatigue forward into the future. Diesel looks at the issues around the new law, how it may be written and how it is likely to be enforced.
The one thing we can all agree on is that there is no simple answer to the complex issues around fatigue in the trucking industry. Rules have been made, schemes have been developed, campaigns have been launched and reviews of fatigue laws have taken place at regular intervals over the years.
In the past, the transport regulators have looked to have clear prescriptive legal limits which they can enforce. At the same time transport operators have been looking for a fatigue management regime which has some in-built flexibility enabling them to be able to get the transport task done in the most productive and safest way.
In the current climate, it looks like we may be seeing some light at the end of a very long tunnel and a possible solution involving both the prescriptive rules the roadside enforcement like and the flexibility trucking needs to get the job done.
At the heart of the matter is safety. Everyone on each side of any of the many arguments in this field will state that safety is paramount. However, the trucking industry has long insisted that the historical approach taken removed flexibility making it difficult for drivers to manage their own fatigue in a safe manner, often driving when fatigued to ensure the work diary looked correct.
This debate becomes circular with neither side of the equation getting satisfaction or a proper hearing from the other side on the issue.
It is this long standing stalemate which has led to the kind of discussions, which were sparked when the National Transport Commission was tasked with a complete rewrite, a blank sheet of paper, to remake the new Heavy Vehicle National Law. This has been a long process, beginning with initial consultations back in May 2018.
Seven different issues papers were released and the trucking industry and the regulators were encouraged to contribute their thoughts and expectations in reaction to the initial questions. This led to a process within the NTC to develop, firstly a summary of consultation outcomes, which came out in January this year and then by a Regulatory Impact Statement to gauge the reaction to proposed law changes. This document has been released in late June and the trucking industry is currently digesting its contents.
“We probably need to convince both jurisdictions and the industry that we have a common goal,” say Andreas Blahous, National Heavy Vehicle Regulator Senior Specialist (Fatigue Management). “If we can agree that what’s safe is legal and what’s unsafe is not legal, I think there is a lot that we can actually do, compared to where we are now.
“One thing thing I have learnt is that this industry changes every day, finding a better way of doing things, whether it’s new technology brought in or a new way of doing things. This means that any law developed is only good for the actual point in time that it has been written. It constantly has to change.
“Through this process we had open discussions with operators, drivers, police and many others about how we go forward. The conclusion we came to was that we don’t want this new law to be a new set of prescriptive rules. It should be about enabling industry and the regulator to actually manage the issue as it changes over time. The NHVR submission to the process isn’t about saying here is a new set of rules. It is saying that this is how we want to work with industry to achieve the right outcome.”