If there is one thing all of the stakeholders around the development of the all-new Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) can agree on, it is that the current law is inadequate to cope with the kind of regulation needed to take the trucking industry into the future, as technology and changing demands recalibrate the way the industry sector will function.
This emphasis on taking a risk-based approach to regulation is a mantra we have been hearing from the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator in recent years and points to a more collaborative approach to the problem rather than the adversarial philosophy behind the law in the past.
For most of us, the job of trying to get a full sense of the implications of all of the bureaucratic language being used by the National Transport Commission in its Consultation Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) may be above our pay scale. For those with a shorter attention span, the NTC have also published a 24-page HVNL 2.0 scenario document which is aimed at showing the industry what the new law could, but does not have to, look like.
“Most stakeholders told us that what the law regulates should remain largely the same in the broader regulatory context, and that the problems with the HVNL relate to the methods of the law and how it regulates heavy vehicles,” says HVNL 2.0.
On the subject of operator accreditation, the approach is to look at mutual recognition on the part of the various accreditation schemes. On the sticky topic of access, the principle is set out for the rules to seek notices and as-of-right authorisation for vehicles to use certain routes and reserve more difficult-to-get permits only for special cases. This would be an extension of what has been happening for some classes of trucks in recent years, but does embed the concept in the basic law.
The future envisaged in this document sees a world with multiple layers of assurance. Some operators will be able to live in a landscape similar to the current regime with simple rules and limits. The paper also envisages more layers of assurance for operators willing to go further down the accreditation and assurance track, in return for higher productivity vehicles or working practices.
The emphasis is planned to be on risk-based regulation, where the HVNL uses the standards operators should meet on – things like assurance, hours rules, mass and dimension, vehicle standards and livestock handling. These standards themselves will not be included in the law. They will be able to be amended by ministerial sign off. There is also room to increase the use of codes of practice to set parameters for industry behaviour.
The way it will work in this case and in many other areas which it covers, is that duties on the part of those involved will be set out in the HVNL. However, regulations, standards and codes of practice, which can be amended and improved easily, will be designed as options enabling operators to comply with those duties.
The scenario envisaged will create a new regulatory landscape, with the operator able to choose a route to compliance. At the most basic level, they could run combinations based on the prescriptive rules and masses, working under a simple standard hours-type arrangement.
At the other end of the spectrum, an operator could fit approved (by the NHVR) fatigue mitigation technology to run a more innovative driving hours regime. They could also fit monitoring equipment, also certified by the NHVR to provide route and mass assurance to the road authorities in return for running at higher masses where possible.
As long as the way the operation is run and equipped meets the duties laid out in the HVNL around public safety, public amenity, environmental and infrastructure impacts, productivity, efficiency and innovation, the way those rules are met will be down to authorities like the NHVR. The authorities will have the ability to change these parameters over time to keep up with a developing trucking industry and the needs of a changing economic landscape.
These basic principles are not currently set in stone and stakeholders wishing to make a comment or suggestion, based on the information in HVNL 2.0 or the longer RIS need to get their submissions into the NTC before October 25, 2020.