Heavy vehicle roadworthiness in the spotlight

The big topic of the day was heavy vehicle roadworthiness, including changes to the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme (NHVAS). Ministers agreed to new arrangements for the appointment of independent auditors for the NHVAS, ending the previous arrangement that allowed operators to choose and pay their own auditors.

It’s a change the ATA has called for particularly to avoid the possibility that some operators could ‘shop around’ until they received the audit results they wanted.

However, we remain strongly opposed to any suggestion that NHVAS accreditation should be made mandatory for any heavy vehicle classes. Operators should be able to join the maintenance management scheme that is best suited to their needs.

Many operators are already enrolled in TruckSafe or other accreditation systems that record better maintenance outcomes for their members than NHVAS. On this basis alone, there is no sound reason for forcing the industry to join this government scheme.

Unlike NHVAS, the TruckSafe standards require every enrolled vehicle to undergo a roadworthy assessment every 12 months. It’s also the only accreditation program that includes regular checks of speed limiter equipment.

During the discussion, I spoke to ministers about the need for key national routes to be marked as primary land freight corridors for Australia. These routes should not stop at any border, but connect with a corresponding route in the adjoining state or territory. This would create an efficient inland network providing heavy vehicle access across Australia.

In the ATA’s view, these routes would also offer planning certainty for local councils to help them improve first/last mile access for industry. I also said that maps of the land freight corridors should show related data like rest stops, breakdown areas and inspection stations for industry. These maps would be a valuable tool for the transport industry, particularly if they were made available in electronic forms.

Also at the meeting, the ministers agreed to the National Transport Commission (NTC) releasing a regulatory impact statement on heavy vehicle roadworthiness for public consultation. Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss has since confirmed that this document will be published in early 2015.

In the ATA’s standing policy on roadworthiness, we emphasise that a heavy vehicle’s roadworthiness is an on-going obligation, not just a ‘once a year’ or a ‘when we next see the truck’ obligation.  In our view, an essential part of meeting this obligation and improving national heavy vehicle roadworthiness would be to extend the chain of responsibility to include maintenance.

I talked about this extensively in my last column, but in essence the ATA would like to see parties in the chain held responsible for maintenance in a similar manner as the current fatigue, speed, and mass dimension and load restraint requirements. This would compel businesses and their senior managers to take all reasonable steps to make sure maintenance staff can do their jobs properly – for example, by delivering adequate budgets, resources and training.

It would also provide encouragement for parties in the chain of responsibility to ensure that user assessments such as pre-trip, en route and post-trip checks are carried out, and that vehicles are included in programmed maintenance.

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