Enacting Change ~ Big Rigs Article #3

In my last article I raised the idea of introducing a system of operator permits for transport company owners and commercial drivers licences. In this issue I thought I’d expand on my ideas for implementation, discuss further the benefits and overcome some of the objections.

In the US the Commercial Drivers Licence (CDL) was introduced by an act of Federal Government in 1986 to harmonise the state licensing system. Whilst the regulations are Federal, each state is its own issuing authority, a similar system would be easily initiated in Australia with a centralized register, curated by the NHVR, to be accessed by all states.

Offenses against the Road Transport Acts or National Heavy Vehicle Regulations whilst operating a commercial heavy vehicle would be reported to this central data store and as in the US recidivist offenders could receive varying suspensions, up to that of life suspension. Suspension of your CDL would not impact your authority to drive a non commercial vehicle thereby reducing socioeconomic impacts on drives guilty of commercial events.

As this would be a commercial permit the authority could be given, to employers, to access a drivers records and be notified of breaches ensuring operators are better informed of their drivers conduct. Whilst currently an employer can check the validity of a drivers licence and request the driver submit a copy of their driving record employers are reliant on the drivers self-reporting roadside infringements. Cross border communication between road authorities remains somewhere between very little and nonexistent, at the current time, despite the technology being easily available.

Centralizing commercial driver records has the added benefit of making more accurate statistical data available. Currently even simple data like total driver numbers is near impossible to collate. Promulgation of relevant information about changes to regulations could also be facilitated with the information being delivered to the people that really need it, not just posters on the back of a dunny door.

So how about rolling it out? This of course would be quite a task to plan. An addition to the NHVL would be required or maybe a separate act should be passed so as WA could be involved but even if WA was resistant to the idea (which I doubt as whilst their non commitment to the NHVR has many valid points this is a very different beast) cross border operation of non-compliant drivers and vehicles would be easily prevented and a mass exodus of operators to the west to avoid compliance responsibilities would be averted.

Drivers would need to complete a written exam that could be easily incorporated into the current licensing system for the new comers to the industry and conducted in house by RTOs for those already in the industry. Those drivers who already hold a TLI30207, Certificate III in Transport and Logistics (Road Transport) would be given an exemption from testing and an additional tier of practical testing could be incorporated for those that obtained their heavy vehicle licence overseas, which would quickly fix any possible issue there, whilst still allowing foreign nationals to operate any vehicle they’ve been licensed for as long as it’s not for commercial gain. I also suggest that primary producers be exempt from the CDL requirements when carrying their own produce and inputs within 200 km of their property.

An operator’s permit system would be even easier to facilitate. If a heavy vehicle is to be used for commercial gain then it must have a permit sticker much like the current NHVR issues for mass and fatigue management. The permit would be issued to the vehicle owner, either an individual or a company with the directors of the company, as registered with ASIC, being the responsible persons additionally key players like Operations Managers would need to be noted on the permit. This responsibility of directors may already be in place under COR legislation but in any event it wouldn’t be a huge leap to do so.

Serious, repeated breaches against this permit could result in revocation, effectively grounding a commercial vehicle or even a fleet if it was deemed necessary. The upside of an operator permit system is that authorities can easily audit fleet owners and achieve much of what the RSRT has said it wants to by utilizing current legislation applicable to wage rates, superannuation and the like.

Currently a smaller operator can register a company with a spouse or relative as a director, avoid enrolling in any maintenance schemes etc and effectively fly beneath the radar. Pay below the award, no super and other dubious tactics that allow them to undercut the good operators, go broke and start again and nobody will notice unless a driver puts his hand up. I’ve worked for people like this and the unfortunate truth is it’s easier to just walk away.

Phase this all in over a 12 to 36 month period and I believe that within 5 years we’d have a vastly improved pool of drivers and a better report in the road accident statistics.

It’s only the pondering of a driver but I believe it would make a big difference.