The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator has recently announced that Chain of Responsibility (CoR) laws within the transport industry will be strengthened in 2018. For what it’s worth, there haven’t been too many COR cases put up before the courts under the current regime, and those that have basically resulted in a slap on the wrist for all concerned.

Up until now, COR has been something of a toothless tiger. While there has been a lot of talk around the topic, the truth is that things have just continued on as normal- but with more complicated and time-consuming paperwork to make everyone look squeaky clean. The pressure is still on drivers to achieve unrealistic schedules, the pressure is still on to take a chance on a ton and a half overload instead of “wasting time” re-arranging the load, and there is still plenty of unjustified waiting time leading to fatigue issues. These are just some of the issues that COR laws were designed to eliminate, but have had very little effect on.

The strengthening of CoR laws would appear to be just as much about ensuring results in court, as it is about road safety. Sure, the threat of doing jail time might slow a few people down, or put a few cowboys out of business, but it will also give a lot of very good operators another reason to leave the industry. With the amount of compliance and enforcement activity already adding pressure to an operator’s day, how much more can they be asked to stand?

Knowledge equals responsibility
The real beauty of CoR is that it goes way beyond the person behind the wheel, and takes into account the roles of everyone involved in the supply chain. The downfall of CoR has been the lack of action taken on anyone but the person behind the wheel. Whether it is a simple time saving measure, or a money saving idea, the driver is still the scapegoat. Perhaps if the upcoming tightening of the laws actually digs deeper than just the last twelve pages of a driver’s work diary, the real issues would come to the fore.

Basically, if there’s any evidence of anyone else in the supply chain knowing that a driver was breaking the law, and the reasons for them doing so, and did nothing to stop it from happening, then they are just as liable as the driver. Depending on that person’s position within the company, the fines and jail time may vary. In fact, there may be multiple penalties applied to the one person, if they are the owner, scheduler, loader and mechanic.

More than just fatigue, speed and mass 
In explaining the tougher laws, the NHVR states that:

Under chain of responsibility (CoR), all parties who have control or influence over the transport task are deemed responsible for complying with and for breaches of these laws. All parties must take reasonable steps to prevent breaches of mass, dimension, loading, speed and fatigue laws. In 2018 this will expand to include vehicle standards and maintenance.

This for me is where it gets interesting- vehicle standards and maintenance. This is one area that the authorities have seen some good results in the courts, with operators being held responsible for sending people out to work in vehicles that had significant safety defects. On the other hand, a driver in Sydney recently challenged a verdict that found him guilty of causing an accident, do to the fact that the brakes “May have been repaired with parts that were not recommended by the manufacturer”. How does one apportion responsibility if both the owner and the driver knew that truck was not right before it left the yard? One chose to send it out to work, and one chose to drive it.

Another question is, where does this leave a mechanic in the equation? Try as they may, a mechanic can only do what they are authorised to do, and the owner is willing to pay for. Whether that means doing a quick patch up to get the vehicle back on the road, or using aftermarket, non- OEM parts to save a dollar or two, a mechanic can only work within the budget he or she is given. Also, there are a lot of very good quality non-OEM parts available, usually at a better price than manufacturer original spares. Will the new emphasis of CoR on maintenance lead to a legal requirement to fit manufacturer genuine parts?

More questions than answers.
While the sentiment of CoR laws is obvious, their enactment may raise more questions than answers. While it may not be intentional, these laws would spell big trouble for any owner driver, as both the director and owner of a company, that is found guilty of a CoR breach.

I was going to say I’d be surprised if anything actually changed in regard to convictions under CoR laws, but I genuinely think they will- for a little while. The authorities will be looking for a good, high profile target to make an example of, and this will put a few on edge for a few months. After the publicity has died down though, it will be back to log book based law enforcement again, with those at the coalface bearing the brunt while the big wigs congratulate each other on their financial returns.

If these tougher laws do stick, then the transport industry faces another issue- finding new talent. And they will need plenty, because the older, more experienced operators will simply walk away. Why you ask? Because the transport industry revolves around those people out on the road doing what they have to, to keep the promises made by someone in an office, who has no idea what the job involves. Up till now, those office people have been able to hide.

 

Author: Dave Whtye 

Having grown up around the transport industry, and spent most of his school holidays in various trucks with his dad, Dave began driving trucks at the age of 19. Having started at the bottom in small rigid trucks doing local work around Melbourne, he worked his way up to driving B-double combinations on interstate duties as a company driver, before winning the Scania Young Australian Truck Driver competition in 2007.

The prize, a brand new Scania prime mover, meant Dave was thrust into the role of being an owner operator, and had to learn the business side of the industry very quickly. That first truck was sold in 2012, but within a month of it being sold Dave and his wife, Amy, had bought a second truck which they ran until late 2016. By that time Dave had decided it would be good to spend some more time with his family, and be more of a dad to their two young boys.

Since 2010, Dave has also been working as a journalist for a number of transport industry publications, initially combining the role of a full time driver with that of a part time journalist. His insider knowledge of the transport industry, including experience in various types of trucks, trailers and freight, provides a different perspective to many other transport industry journalists. The hard learned lessons from running his own business also give him an insight to the dollars and cents side of transport.

While Dave now focusses on his role as a contributor to Trucksales.com.au, he also spends a bit of time on the road as a casual driver- a job he still loves to do. Dave sees this as important, as it keeps him up to date with what’s going on in the “real world” of transport and allows him to maintain his skills in various roles. Whether it’s carting cars or delivering dairy product in fridge vans, he enjoys spending time out on the road amongst the people of the transport industry.

Dave is proud to be part of such a diverse and dynamic industry, and is passionate about the industry and its people.

dave