On the side of the Princes Highway in SA with an enforcement team is where the NHVR rubber hits the road. Standing under a bright South Australian sun at a hilltop weighing station just outside of Tailem Bend on the main Adelaide to Melbourne freight route, watching trucks coming into a weigh station to get the once over from the scalies, set me reminiscing.
It is always a stressful experience getting pulled in for a roadside check, but the relatively relaxed atmosphere gives a hint of the changes that the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) has in train.
It was not that long ago when anyone running interstate was also running the gauntlet. It was a lottery as to whether the truck would meet the very particular requirements of the state you were in. Changes seemed to get made in state-based regulations just to enable roadside officers to ping random truckies. Tape measure lengths seemed to change once a state border was crossed.
In reality, it was a lot of work for any operator to keep all of their trucks compliant in every state that the trucks would be travelling through. It was a full-time job keeping up with changes to rules. The solution was to set up the truck and trailer to meet whichever state regulation was the toughest. That worked as long as state regulations weren’t contradictory, as they proved to be, in some cases.
As the NHVR takes its first tentative steps to becoming the organisation which will handle all roadside enforcement of trucks across Australia, it is probably useful to recall those darker times and look to how the position has been improved and can be improved further.
If you talked to a typical trucking operator back in, say 2005, and told them there would be a single trucking regulator with its own roadside enforcement officers across most of Australia, they would have laughed their socks off. Now there are plans for NHVR officers in South Australia (SA), Tasmania (TAS) and New South Wales (NSW) before 2020, with Queensland and Victoria to follow soon after. As for Western Australia and the Northern Territory? Let’s wait and see!
The industry still has a lot of reservations about what is happening and has every right to complain when industry regulations are inconsistent and unnecessarily constrict the free flow of trucks. We are in the middle of a process, however, that is moving in the right direction, and has brought some clear wins. There are also some other areas, usually areas like historical disputes about permits and rule interpretations, which will remain contentious for some time to come.
Out on the Road
“It’s going very well, better than I expected,” says Paul Simionato, NHVR Operations Manager in South Australia. “We have a high level of co-operation working with the Department of Transport SA and have developed a close relationship with SA police. There’s a lot more visibility with industry actually knowing what our activities are comprised of, and the identity of the NHVR being established in SA.
“There’s more of a national focus for the NHVR, and more consistency involving compliance and enforcement activities across the board. We have had a cultural change to a more modern NHVR view of compliance.
“Our primary focus is safety on our roads, rather than substantive enforcement that results in prosecution and expiation notices. However, make no mistake, where there is evidence of substantive non-compliance in the industry, appropriate action will be taken.
“We are now trying to work closely with the trucking industry and we have had independent positive feedback in relation to our compliance activities.”