As a result of an industrial dispute there will be no roadside enforcement next week. Unfortunately, this news comes out of Poland – we Australians are not getting a holiday from the rules any time soon. The strike is a result of an ongoing pay dispute.
I would suggest, if the enforcement officers have been disgruntled for some time, the poor truckies getting pulled up at the side of the road on their way to Warsaw would have copped a few unnecessary fines after coming across inspectors in a bad mood about their wages.
As an industry we have a problematic relationship with those who are posted on our highways to make sure we are all doing the right thing. This is not just an Aussie thing, it is universal. Having driven professionally in Western Europe and Australia, I can say the issues are commonplace. The only thing which changes is the name of the offence and the currency the fine has to be paid in.
Why are we so resentful of the representatives of the ‘powers that be’ going over our trucks and records with a fine toothcomb? It is hard to get to the core of the issue. Is it because we are all regular lawbreakers afraid of getting caught? No it is not.
One of the issues at the heart of the problem is the fact the vast majority of those on the road are doing the right thing and should be able to go into a check knowing they are squeaky clean. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Dot all of the Is and cross all of the Ts and you can still cop a fine for a minor mistake in recordkeeping or after an over-zealous loader puts a bit too much pudding on.
One contributing factor is our federal system, which has state-based transport authorities working for the state government’s benefit. The same issues apply to those truckies criss-crossing Europe, as they flit from country to country within the EU.
The next issue is the problem of ‘transit states’. Our transit state is New South Wales. An overwhelming majority of the freight moved on roads in Australia has to pass through NSW at some point. Quite often the state’s economy will benefit little from the passing of the goods from, for example, South Australia to Queensland, just a bit of road wear.
As a result the attitude seems to have developed – as is certainly perceived to be the case by many truckies – of getting something out of these truckies passing through, even if it is the odd fine.
The parallel with Europe is again very clear. A lot of road freight in Europe has to pass through France, Germany, and quite often Poland. French authorities have developed the art of pinging truck drivers for small offences for small fines to the point where it is widely regarded as a revenue-raising tactic.
Similarly, French customs will set up shop on the roadside knowing they will be able to catch enough offenders who are carrying untaxed fuel, or too many bottles of spirits or cartons of cigarettes across borders to justify the operation.
Germany uses road charging to top up its coffers, but did use fuel excise fines to do the job for many years. Poland goes through a similar process to get some revenue from passing trucks. A revenue stream which will be curtailed when the strike is in force.
Do Australian roadside enforcement stop us to make money? No, of course not, but the perception is there. This has grown over the years as drivers have worked hard to get everything about their truck and records right, only to get a fine for something seemingly insignificant. Will the introduction of a national enforcement operation solve this issue? Let’s hope so.