Queensland has become the first Australian state or territory to enact the Heavy Vehicle National Law which was approved by the Standing Council on Transport and Infrastructure (SCOTI) in November 2011.

The purpose of the Law is to provide a single set of rules and procedures for businesses engaged in the heavy vehicle road transport industry throughout Australia. The streamlining of the regulatory system is forecast by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator to result in productivity gains for the industry of up to $12.4 billion during the next 20 years.

In Queensland, the Act imposes obligations on employers and prime contractors of heavy vehicle drivers to take “all reasonable steps” to ensure their business practices do not cause drivers to undertake dangerous or illegal actions such as exceeding speed limits attached to their licence or vehicle, driving while fatigued, overloading a vehicle or failing to report a malfunctioning odometer.

The Act also provides that where a company commits an offence against the Act, each executive officer of the company also commits an offence and can be prosecuted without the regulator having to first prosecute the company for the offence.

The regulator is granted significant powers to enter premises or vehicles, inspect records in hard copy and electronic formats, seize items believed to be evidence of an offence against the Act and obtain information from individuals connected with a business when investigating a possible offence.

Officers of the Regulator have authority to issue improvement notices to individuals or businesses the officer reasonably suspects of having breached an obligation imposed under the Act, requiring them to take specified action to rectify the breach within a certain period of time (usually seven days from the date of the notice).

Other powers granted to officers of the regulator under the Act include:

  1. Issuing a heavy vehicle defect notice, prohibiting the vehicle from use until such times as the defect is rectified;
  2. Directing drivers of fatigue-regulated heavy vehicles to immediately cease work and rest for a specified period, and/or work a shift of a prescribed duration when the driver resumes work, where the officer reasonably suspects the driver has breached a maximum work requirement; and
  3. Requiring drivers of heavy vehicles to produce their license and any other documentation they are required to keep in the vehicle under the Act.

Where a business or individual is convicted of an offence against the Act, a court can impose a variety of possible orders:

  1. Penalties ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 per offence for individuals and $5,000 to $50,000 for companies
  2. Commercial benefits penalty orders, requiring the offender to pay up to 3 times the estimated gross commercial benefit the offender received, or would have received, as a result of the offence;
  3. Suspension or cancellation of a heavy vehicle’s registration;
  4. Orders regulating the business practices of repeat offenders for a period of up to 1 year, in order to reduce the risk of reoffending; and
  5. Orders prohibiting a convicted person from having a role or responsibility in the road transport industry for a period of up to 1 year.

While the Heavy Vehicle National Law Act 2012 was passed by the Queensland Parliament in February, a commencement date is yet to be determined despite the national regulator commencing operations in Brisbane.

To prepare for the anticipated implementation of the Law by State and Territory governments throughout Australia during 2013, all businesses in the heavy vehicle road transport industry should:

  1. Provide training to all executive officers and drivers engaged by the business on their obligations under the Law;
  2. Conduct a gap analysis review of the business’s existing operating procedures to identify any compliance issues with applicable obligations under the Law;
  3. Develop policies and procedures for dealing with authorised officers investigating a possible breach of the Law; and
  4. Monitor the Regulator’s website for updates about the implementation of the Law in each State and Territory.