The National Transport Commission (NTC) and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator has issued the first phase in the ‘Heavy Vehicle Roadworthiness Report of Current Practice’. The report goes into lengthy descriptions of how the different ways of ensuring safe trucks on our roads work, but one of the points it returns to is the fact, none of the current ways the different states monitor truck maintenance work particularly well.
An issue it does mention, without commenting on, is the variation, state by state, in the way truck maintenance is regulated. Surprisingly, for a combined effort from two national bodies which espouse the idea of a single national standard for the trucking industry, they fail to hit home the obvious point, a single way of regulating maintenance across Australia would benefit everyone, except the bureaucrats in the various state capitals. Many fleets move from state to state and have depots around the country, the simple act of trying to remain compliant with the plethora of different rules diverts resources from simply keeping the trucks well maintained.
The National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme (NHVAS) is damned with faint praise by the report. The NHVAS is the baby of the state regulators and, as such, can get in the way of truly national regulation of maintenance. It may be the same for everyone but is policed in a myriad of ways in the states. The NHVR and NTC hold back from out right criticism of NHVAS but the message is not good.
“At this stage, data collection methods do not yield sufficient, reliable data to reach a conclusive determination about whether the NHVAS provides an effective mechanism for achieving road safety outcomes relative to its objectives,” says the report.
The question of how the auditing process works has always been a grey area for the NHVAS and the provisions of the National Heavy Vehicle Law (NHVL), which the NHVR is set up to administer, does not help the improvement of secure auditing outcomes.
“The HVNL contains provisions allowing for the recognition of auditors, but provisions for the governance, accountability or liability of auditors are not included in the legislation nor the NHVAS Business Rules which set out the high level policies and process for the Scheme,” says the report.
Here is a recommendation the trucking industry needs to push for in the lead up to the second phase of this reporting process, get the law sorted out! The second phase will include how to move forward from the current regime to improve outcomes. This is where the trucking industry needs to speak with one voice and push for the kind of reform we must have, or we will remain the whipping boys, in terms of truck safety, for the enforcement agencies.
Most agree accreditation is the way forward, but the only way accreditation actually works is if it has credibility. This is the touchstone for all of the various accreditation schemes around the country, for some more than others. Credible auditing and transparent maintenance regimes breed confidence. When credibility is lacking the kind of actions by the NSW RMS in the wake of the Cootes tanker accident are always going to happen.
Roadside enforcement will harass a truckie at the roadside even if all of the certificates for all manner of things are present and correct. The result, antipathy and downright aggression between the two parties. Complain about harassment and the authorities can rightly point to transgressions by other operators with similar accreditation. Get the accreditation right at the ground level so it is as watertight as possible then roadside enforcement will have to back off and concentrate on the ones they should really be after, the cowboys who are out there taking the piss out of us all!