Councils and waste transport operators may face hefty fines under ‘chain of responsibility’ legislation as a result of a VicRoads crackdown on overloading of waste management vehicles.

In recent months there has been a notable increase in enforcement activity and the number of prosecutions against municipal councils and waste transport operators for allegedly overloading garbage trucks in breach of vehicle mass limit provisions of the Road Safety Act 1986 (Vic) (the “RSA”).

The charges seem to have arisen following investigations by VicRoads involving weighbridge audits at various waste management facilities and interviews with council management, transport operators and individual drivers.

In most cases, the councils had contracted out their waste collection services to external providers. However, councils and transport operators have been charged as either the consignor and/or consignee of the transported waste product under the ‘chain of responsibility’ provisions in the RSA.

As a result of the ‘chain of responsibility’ legislation, part of which commenced operation throughout Australia in 2005, any person using road transport as part of their business, including consignors, packers, loaders, drivers, operators and consignees can be held responsible for breach of vehicle mass and dimension limits or load restraint requirements (amongst other things).

The penalties, if found guilty of exceeding vehicle mass limits, vary depending on whether the breach is characterised as minor, substantial or severe. Several councils and waste transport operators are currently defending multiple charges (some in excess of 100 separate offences) exposing them to maximum penalties of up to $2 million.

In light of the notable increase in enforcement activity by VicRoads and the potential for significant penalties if found guilty, it is critical that persons charged, or being investigated, for breaches of road safety laws seek legal advice at the earliest possible stage particularly prior to taking part in an interview with VicRoads Inspectors.