Driver fatigue is seen by the authorities as one of the transport industry’s main safety risks. Anyone who drives long haul will no doubt have seen the resources they pour into policing it.
But, in focusing only on drivers, the authorities are targeting the wrong people.
If they really want to bring about change, enforcement needs to look at the people who hold the power in the industry.
The Current State Of Play
At the moment the standard procedure when a fatigue breach is identified is to charge the driver only. However, there’s no reason this has to be the case. The Chain of Responsibility laws allow the authorities to pursue other people in the supply chain.
However, it’s extremely rare for anyone else in the Chain to be investigated or charged.
In fact it’s so rare, that it was big news when in February this year the NHVR finally charged a director for fatigue breaches under the new Chain of Responsibility laws. It was the first time those laws had been used, despite existing for over 2 years by that stage.
Focusing On Drivers Ignores The Root Of The Problem
The point of punishing people with heavy fines is to deter them from committing offences. However, that only works well if you’re punishing the people who have the real power to stop fatigue breaches.
The reality is that small transport businesses, many of whom are owner drivers, don’t hold that power. Yet this is the group that seems to cop the brunt of the enforcement and fines.
A large portion of my work is helping these owner drivers. By far the majority of them are good people who are trying to do the right thing.
They have one thing in common – they’re under a lot of pressure.
As you all know, the transport industry is competitive. Margins are tight and there’s often 10 other small businesses willing to step into your spot.
The result is that those at the top of the chain hold the real bargaining power. If a small business can’t meet big business’ timeframes they simply won’t get work. Too often this is what leads to people falling foul of the fatigue laws.
Of course that’s not to say all big businesses are doing the wrong thing and forcing small business to break the law. Just like most things, there’s good and bad in both groups. The key though is for the authorities to identify and target those who are doing the wrong thing.
What’s The Solution?
There’s a lot of focus on reforming the fatigue laws to better reflect the realities of a driver’s job. I agree that’s an important step. However, it’s only half of the solution.
I’m also not suggesting that the authorities should stop charging drivers for fatigue breaches. There does need to be accountability at that level too.
What I am advocating for is evening out the playing field.
The enforcement needs to also target those who have the power to bring about change in the industry. Until the ‘big players’ start feeling the sting of enforcement action, there’s little motivation for them to change. While they are free from the consequences there will be a portion of them who do the wrong thing and keep up the pressure on drivers.
If we can ease some of the pressure by making sure everyone in the Chain carries their fair share of the enforcement action, then less owner drivers will find themselves in the difficult positions that lead to fatigue offences.
We already have the tools under the Chain of Responsibility laws to do this. The authorities just need to start using them.
If you’re not sure how these laws apply to you, you should consult with an experienced heavy vehicle lawyer. Our team at Ainsley Law are more than happy to chat with you.
Please call us today at 0416 224 601 or leave an enquiry.