Australia: Heavy Vehicle National Law: The Master Code: speed management

Last Updated: 22 May 2019
Article by Adam Vrahnos

Most Read Contributor in Australia, July 2019

Recently, we discussed mass, load and dimension requirements under the Master Industry Code of Practice (Master Code) registered by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR). In this article we'll be looking at speed management.

As I'm sure every reader knows, speeding causes a safety risk for any road vehicle. For heavy vehicles, speeding poses a significantly larger risk simply as a matter of physics – the heavier the vehicle, the longer it takes to stop. Add in other factors such as weather, light, traffic, road conditions, vehicle condition, driver skills and experience, and suddenly speed compliance becomes a lot more than simply keeping to the speed limit.

The impact forces experienced by vehicle occupants and other road users also increase. In fact, at any speed, for every extra 1 km/h of speed:

  • the stopping distance increases
  • more time is needed to react and avoid a crash
  • the impact of the crash is more severe. Simply put: the faster you drive, the harder you hit
  • the likelihood of serious injury or death increases
  • damage to road infrastructure and the environment as a result of a crash increases.

Speed management

The Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) imposes strict obligations for parties in the Chain of Responsibility (CoR) to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure that a driver of a heavy vehicle does not commit a speeding offence.

Unlike the other "pillars" of CoR such as fatigue or mass compliance, speed compliance is not allocated a specific chapter under the HVNL. Rather, speed compliance under the HVNL is dealt with under:

  • section 26C – imposes a primary duty on each party in the CoR to ensure, so far as reasonably practical, the safety of the party's transport activities relating to the heavy vehicle
  • section 26E – prohibits a person from asking, directing or requiring (directly or indirectly) the driver of a heavy vehicle or party to the supply chain to breach is speed obligations
  • the requirement for certain heavy vehicles to be fitted with speed limiters and various sections prohibiting speed limiter tampering.

It is important to remember that the HVNL does not cover circumstances where a driver commits other driving contraventions, which would ordinarily be a general road safety offence. For example, using a hand-held mobile while driving. Where an offence like this occurs, the driver would likely face penalties under the relevant state law.

There are a number of tools available to manage and enforce heavy vehicle speed limits, both in the HVNL and in state and territory road safety laws.

For example, speed limiters can be used to ensure heavy vehicles are prevented from driving over 100 km/h. While it is not mandatory that all heavy vehicles must be fitted with speed limiters, there are certain heavy vehicles that must comply with this Vehicle Standard, such as heavy vehicles manufactured after 1991 that have a gross vehicle mass (GVM) over 14.5 tonnes.

Where a speed limiter is required to be installed in a heavy vehicle, the operator of the vehicle or another responsible party in the CoR must ensure that vehicle cannot operate over the 100 km/h limit and that the speed limiter has not been tampered with. Heavy sanctions will apply to an operator or responsible party that violates the speed limiter requirements. The offences relating to speed limiters under the HVNL are set out as follows:

  • section 60(1) – requires a person not to use or permit the use of a heavy vehicle that contravenes a vehicle standard, including those that apply to speed limiters
  • section 93(1) and (2) – requires a person not to tamper with a speed limiter or to fit or direct the fitting of a speed limiter
  • section 93(3) – requires an operator not to use or permit the use of a speed limiter if they know it has been tampered with.

Another example is the use of electronic speed management systems.

The industry is increasing its use of 'telematics' as a means of measuring, monitoring and ensuring compliance with speed limits. Telematics uses Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite tracking and wireless communication technology to remotely monitor where, when and how heavy vehicles are being operated on the road network. This can include the real time monitoring of speeding and driver behaviour.

There are various types of the telematics technologies available to heavy vehicle fleets. Simple GPS tracking devices track the location of each vehicle when they are out in the field and send real-time warnings to the driver and to your head office of a possible or actual compliance breach so that businesses can instantly manage compliance. More advanced systems can be linked to job and journey booking systems, so that depot or journey delays can be immediately integrated into journey planning, to ensure that drivers are not encouraged to speed in order to 'make up' any delays.

So what does the Master Code say about speed management?

Ultimately, the goal of any business involved in the supply chain is to ensure that transport activities do not cause a speed breach or influence someone else (usually the driver) to breach their speed obligations.

When businesses consider adopting the three processes above, it is important that they are mindful of the unique risk factors that apply to them. For example, fleets and parties in the Chain which undertake urgent, express or overnight deliveries or move time sensitive freight, such as perishable items, may require different compliance controls to fleets and parties in the Chain which are not involved in those activities.

As parting advice, businesses should consider some of the key questions set out below when addressing compliance:

  • are there enough policies and procedures, or systems to report non-compliance?
  • is there effective two-way consultation, cooperation and coordination of all parties along the supply chain?
  • are we providing adequate information, training, instruction and/or supervision of speed management obligations and associated policies and procedures?
  • are there any conflicting commercial arrangements or employment terms between CoR parties?
  • are there any poorly planned trip schedules and driver rosters and/or inadequate oversight to verify suitability?
  • do we have flexible loading and unloading schedules or timeslots?
  • are we compliant with speed-limiting requirements and/or inadequate maintenance of speed monitoring components?
  • are we monitoring deliberate actions of drivers or other CoR parties?
  • are we considering driver experience and skills?
  • is there adequate monitoring and/or due diligence by all CoR parties to ensure safety and compliance of transport activities?

Paramount to any compliance system and indeed, a key focus of the Master Code is to ensure parties are keeping a paper trail of their compliance activities.

Businesses should always keep a record of what they have done in order to comply with HNVL and their CoR responsibilities. While tools such as electronic speed management systems is a proactive method to ensure compliance, it is equally important that your business has appropriate procedures to ensure those systems accurately record compliance (or noncompliance) and that there are adequate reporting mechanisms.

Lastly, it is good practice to ensure that a business's HVNL compliance procedures in relation to speed, also address other at-risk behaviours governed under state laws. Some examples of what a HVNL compliance framework would also address include not wearing seat belts, harsh braking and cornering (which can be indicators of speeding), reckless driving including tailgating, drug and alcohol use, and in-cab distractions including mobile device or phone use (for example, using voice to text activated dialing).

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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