Although a recent South Australian jury decision to convict a
road transport company director of manslaughter and endangering
life due to serious failures in vehicle maintenance was not made
under the CoR regime, it underscores the importance of the current
heavy vehicle roadworthiness legislative reform initiative and the
CoR focus on executive responsibility.
Peter Colbert, the director of Adelaide-based Colbert Transport,
was prosecuted after Robert Brimson, a driver he had engaged, died
in a truck crash in Happy Valley, South Australia, in March
An investigation determined that the crash was caused by the
failure of the brakes on the vehicle he was driving (a 1994
Mitsubishi Taut Liner). Mr Brimson, who attempted eleven times to
apply the brakes immediately before the vehicle collided into a
pole, had only been working with the company for ten days before
the fatal accident occurred.
The prosecution established that Mr Colbert had also endangered
the life of another employee, who had driven the same vehicle 3
Evidence showed that the company had received repeated warnings
from its drivers that the brakes needed to be fixed.
Additionally, evidence provided for the prosecution by the
business's former book keeper showed that Mr Colbert himself
had been behind the wheel of the faulty truck when it caught fire
approximately one month before the fatal accident. This established
that as the director, he had first hand knowledge of the serious
maintenance issues with the vehicle.
The prosecutor, Mr Tim Preson, submitted:
"[The] vehicle had a history
of brake failures which were brought to the attention of the
accused on a number of occasions and, despite that, the accused
deliberately failed to deal with those reported failures. He still
directed the deceased to the cabin of that truck. In my submission,
that truck was a death trap." [Source: ABC article by
Court Reporter James Hancock posted 11 June 2015]
The allegations that he had been warned several times to fix the
truck's brakes prior to the accident were denied by Mr Colbert
who said that he relied upon the company mechanic to properly
maintain the company's vehicles.
Mr Colbert potentially faces a life sentence in relation to the
convictions, but the court will not hand down a decision on his
sentence until later this year.
The prosecution of the company director in this case was brought
under the South Australian criminal statute and was not under the
Heavy Vehicle National Law's (HVNL's), CoR regime.
Although the CoR regime carries heavy penalties for proven
severe and critical breaches of road transport safety laws, it does
not include its own offences for manslaughter or endangering life,
and does not presently extend CoR requirements to matters of
roadworthiness and vehicle maintenance.
The importance of company directors taking responsibility for
the safety of company vehicles and implementing a regular and
effective maintenance program was made tragically apparent from the
circumstances of this case. It is also a decision that confirms
that it is not an adequate response for a director of a company to
delegate full responsibility for vehicle safety to a mechanic or
others with a responsibility for vehicle maintenance.
It has recently been confirmed by Safe Work Australia that
drivers of heavy vehicles in Australia are fifteen times more
likely to die in the course of their employment than people engaged
in any other occupation in Australia, and it is broadly recognised
that unsafe vehicles pose serious safety risks to the heavy vehicle
drivers as well as other road users.
The current joint initiative by the National Transport
Commission (NTC) and National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) to
identify the most effective ways to improve the roadworthiness of
the heavy vehicles in Australia is presently in the third of its
Submissions have been received on a consultation regulatory
impact statement and the next phase will involve finalising
recommendations on the best and most effective ways in which
accreditation schemes, vehicle inspections and other mechanisms
might be used to improve the safety of heavy road vehicles on
In the interim, Mr Brimson's death, as well as other recent
heavy vehicle accidents in the state, have led South Australian
authorities to push for an extension of CoR provisions to vehicle
roadworthiness as a matter of priority.
In May 2015, State Minister for Transport and Infrastructure,
Stephen Mulligan, announced he had secured a commitment to
fast-track the changes from other transport ministers.
In a statement, Mr Mulligan said that extending the law would
send a clear message to directors and CEOs about their potential
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