Australia: National Heavy Vehicle Inspection Manual (NHVIM): Consistency of roadworthiness and maintenance inspections

The National Heavy Vehicle Inspection Manual (NHVIM) has been implemented to ensure that authorised officers and approved vehicle examiners apply a nationally consistent set of failure criteria when conducting a heavy vehicle inspection. This article looks at the implementation of the NHVIM and its impact on heavy vehicle inspections and maintenance. With the impending inclusion of vehicle maintenance in the Chain of Responsibility (CoR), vehicle inspections will take on even greater significance.

Under section 60 of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL), all heavy vehicles used on a road must comply with heavy vehicle standards. The penalties for non-compliance include the issuing of an infringement or defect notice. For a vehicle to be considered roadworthy, it must comply with:

  1. the Heavy Vehicle National Regulation (Vehicle Standards); and
  2. the relevant Australian Design Rules (ADRs).

IMPORTANT: While the NHVIM comprehensively summarises the requirements of the Vehicle Standards, it is not exhaustive and must be read in conjunction with both vehicle and component manufacturer's specifications.

Both the Vehicle Standards and ADRs contain mandatory requirements for the safe design, construction and maintenance of vehicles and for the control of emissions and noise. However, these standards are largely technical documents that may not have been widely understood or applied consistently by road inspectors.

Therefore, the NHVIM has been implemented to ensure that authorised officers and approved vehicle examiners apply a nationally consistent set of failure criteria when conducting a heavy vehicle inspection. In a welcome development, all participating states and territories have adopted the NHVIM into their inspection regimes.

Checks in the NHVIM

Some of the main issues targeted in the NHVIM include:

  1. brakes – examining whether the brake failure indicators, pressure/vacuum gauges and air tank drain valves are operational
  2. couplings – examining whether the mountings, towbar, drawbar and couplings are secure
  3. wheels, tyres and hubs – examining whether the tyres are correctly inflated and the wheels are secure
  4. structure and body condition – examining whether the panels and readily visible structures are secure and the horn is operational
  5. lights and reflectors – examining whether the lights are operational and reflectors and lenses are present and in good condition (not faded, broken or damaged)
  6. mirrors – examining whether the mirrors are present, in good condition, secure and appropriately adjusted
  7. windscreens and windows – examining whether the windows are operational and the wipers and windscreen washers are functioning to ensure clear forward vision; and
  8. engine, driveline and exhaust – examining whether fluid is leaking (i.e. oil, fuel, water, refrigerant/coolant, hydraulic fluid, brake fluid or other) from the vehicle (excluding condensation from air conditioning or the refrigeration system).

For a more detailed explanation of the various checks used for heavy vehicle inspections, visit here.

Link between roadworthiness inspections and maintenance

Although the NHVIM is not explicitly referenced in the HVNL, steps are being taken to ensure greater uniformity across the legislation in relation to inspections and vehicle maintenance. Of particular relevance has been the introduction of the Heavy Vehicle National Law and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016, which proposes to make important changes:

  • for the extension of the chain of responsibility concept to vehicle maintenance
  • to reduce complexity and inconsistency; and
  • to provide consistency with best practice safety regulation.

The relevance of this new Bill has been recognised by everyone across the industry, including Chris Melham, CEO of the Australian Trucking Association, who stated:

"Extending the chain of responsibility concept to heavy vehicle maintenance will compel businesses and their senior managers to take all reasonable steps to make sure maintenance staff can do their jobs properly, for example, by delivering adequate budgets, resources and training."

The implementation of the NHVIM as the national standard for vehicle inspections forms a key component of the National Heavy Vehicle Roadworthiness Program. As mentioned, the key focus for heavy vehicles is that they are "roadworthy" and the Roadworthiness Program has been designed to change industry behaviour to ensure all parties in the supply chain proactively maintain and operate their vehicles in accordance with the heavy vehicle safety standards.

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator has noted that the program applies a "risk-based approach" in relation to compliance through auditing, monitoring and inspecting heavy vehicles on a common basis. This has been particularly relevant over the last year and has possibly been fast-tracked by the number of heavy vehicle incidents that have occurred in the past 12 months in relation to maintenance.

For example, in January last year, the NSW regulator (RMS) inspected 55 Moits Trucks and trailers after a rear trailer became unlatched on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and left 3km of landfill. The inspections uncovered four major brake defects and 35 minor defects that were as a result of poor maintenance practices. This was but one of many similar major maintenance inspection programs conducted throughout HVNL jurisdictions.

Heavy vehicle maintenance is set to come under the spotlight when it is included in the HVNL. Uniformity of inspection and assessment criteria is essential for consistency and predictability. The NHVIM should help deliver that consistency and all operators should be familiar with the criteria contained within it.

This publication does not deal with every important topic or change in law and is not intended to be relied upon as a substitute for legal or other advice that may be relevant to the reader's specific circumstances. If you have found this publication of interest and would like to know more or wish to obtain legal advice relevant to your circumstances please contact one of the named individuals listed.

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