Australia has moved a step closer towards adopting electronic diaries for truck drivers to more easily log work and rest times, but an expert says they won’t help improve safety.
The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator says the new compliance policy it released last week will ensure heavy vehicle drivers using either electronic or written work diaries are treated equally.
NHVR productivity and safety executive director Geoff Casey said the policy would strike a balance between safety and compliance to ensure a consistent approach for drivers who voluntarily used the new technology, and that information was accurate and accessible.
The policy outlines the NHVR’s requirements for meeting record keeping laws whether drivers used technology or traditional written diaries, Mr Casey said.
The regulator said the outcomes of its recent consultations on the policy framework and standards will be published once finalised, and it will then prepare to accept applications from technology firms to provide the technology to record work and rest.
Mr Casey said that while electronic work diaries must meet the requirements of the standards they may include additional functionality to meet individual business needs.
No impact on fatigue, crashes: expert
However, while electronic work diaries should achieve their objective of ensuring truck drivers comply with fatigue laws they will have no effect on reducing driver fatigue and consequent crash risk and could “make the situation worse,” an expert has told Government News.
Heavy trucks are disproportionately involved in fatal crashes on Australian roads and the trucking industry represents the highest number of work-related fatalities across all industries.
Professor Ann Williamson, a road safety expert at the University of NSW, said electronic diaries should improve compliance with fatigue laws as they can account for vehicle movements to the nearest minute.
However, she noted the regulator’s new policy allows drivers to review and correct information in the electronic diary but is not clear on what will be judged to be a safety concern or deliberate non-compliance.
“Nor is it clear when and how corrections will be allowed to the electronic diary,” said Professor Williamson, a former principal research scientist with the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety.
Inadequate fatigue risk laws
When asked whether electronic work diaries could have a positive impact on reducing truck driver fatigue, Professor William said: “The answer is a resounding no.”
She argued the current working hours regulations for heavy truck drivers are inadequate.
“The standard fatigue management regulations allow up to 72 hours of driving in seven days, which is too long. Most concerning, the laws require only seven hours of continuous rest in any 24 hour period, which is simply inadequate to obtain sufficient sleep as well as attend to the normal activities of daily living, such as meals and showering.”
Ultimately, Professor Williamson said that trying to improve compliance with inadequate fatigue risk management laws will do nothing to reduce driver fatigue.
“These rules mean the majority of heavy vehicle drivers on our roads are tired and are driving with significantly increased risk of crashing. Just increasing compliance with inadequate laws cannot reduce crash risk.”
New chain of responsibility laws
Elsewhere, the NHVR also recently foreshadowed new chain of responsibility laws coming into effect in the middle of the year.
The changes will impact many of the 165,000 businesses that make up the heavy vehicle supply chain in Australia.
“These changes are a significant step forward in recognising that everyone in the supply chain has a role to play in heavy vehicle safety,” said NHVR’s chain of responsibility manager Kym Farquharson-Jones.
The laws mean that all parties in the chain, including primary producers, must proactively reduce risks related to the safety of heavy vehicle transport tasks. Under current laws primary producers may be responsible for breaches by drivers once they are detected.
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