Australia’s Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) is changing in mid-2018.  The changes are not only relevant to businesses that drive or operate heavy vehicles.  They will also apply to any businesses that consign, pack, load or receive goods by heavy vehicles.

Background to Chain of Responsibility Amendments

As a result of concerns expressed by industry participants and regulators, and after extensive consultation, Australia’s transport ministers resolved that the HVNL should be reformed to better align with other national safety legislation such as the Model Work Health and Safety Act and the Rail Safety National Law.

The Heavy Vehicle National Law Amendment Bill was passed in December 2016 in the Queensland Parliament and the changes are expected to take effect in mid-2018.

Changes to the HVNL will be effective across all participating states and territories including New South Wales, South Australia, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory.

Key Changes

The primary changes involve a new chapter directed at chain of responsibility parties and the principle of shared responsibility. It includes a proactive primary duty on chain of responsibility parties to ensure the safety of transport activities, replacing the current provisions in which parties are only liable once breaches are detected.

The Bill also includes a proactive due diligence obligation on executive officers of entities with a primary duty and prohibits requests and contracts that would cause a driver or chain of responsibility party to breach fatigue requirements or speed limits.

Further changes include:

  1. the option to use enforceable undertakings as an alternative to prosecution for certain offences;
  2. additional information gathering powers for authorised officers, including police, in relation to a possible contravention of the primary duty of care; and
  3. the introduction of self-clearing defect notices as a new type of defect notice for defective vehicles that do not pose a safety risk or if the vehicle’s number plate is obscured.

Important takeaways

To prepare for the upcoming changes, parties in the heavy vehicle transport supply chain should:

  1. consider and familiarise themselves with the new legislative regime of primary duties;
  2. educate management and staff as to the new primary duties and the severe penalties associated with non-compliance; and
  3. take this opportunity to consider the risks associated with their transport services, what policies and practices are currently in place to manage those risks and what further steps could and should be taken to manage the risks and to document the steps taken to manage those risks.

Thanks to Brodie Purdon for her assistance in preparing this article.

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