Heavy Vehicle National Law
The Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) came into effect in NSW on 10 February 2014. The law applies to anyone who owns or operates, or works with anyone who owns or operates, vehicles of 4.5 tonnes or more.
The objective of the law is to nationally regulate the use of heavy vehicles on roads in a way that:
- Promotes public safety
- Manages the impact of heavy vehicles on the environment, road infrastructure and public amenity
- Promotes productivity and efficiency in the road transport industry, and
- Encourages and promotes productive, efficient and safe business practices.
In particular, the HVNL targets:
- Illegal driving and working hours, and
- Overloading, exceeding vehicle dimensions and poorly restrained loads.
Chain of responsibility
Key to the HVNL is the chain of responsibility (CoR) principle. This sets out specific legal obligations for anyone in the supply chain from employers, managers and company directors through to drivers, loaders and packers.
Under the chain of responsibility, any person who consigns, dispatches, packs, loads, carries, receives or unpacks goods as part of their business can be found liable for breaches of the HVNL.
There are four categories of breaches:
- Minor breach– risk of someone gaining a minor unfair commercial advantage over those who operate legally, but no risk to safety or infrastructure.
- Substantial breach– risk of damage to infrastructure, increasing traffic congestion and unfair competition. May also involve some risk to safety, but not an appreciable risk.
- Severe breach– appreciable risk to safety, more severe risk to infrastructure, greater risk of traffic congestion or a greater level of unfair competition.
- Critical breach– contravention of fatigue regulated maximum work time and/or minimum rest time which would adversely affect the driver’s ability to drive safely.
Consignors and consignees
Under the chain of responsibility, a consignor includes anyone who commissions the transportation of goods or merchandise. For example, a primary producer sending produce by road to a market or wholesaler.
A consignee includes anyone who takes possession of goods or merchandise. For example, a wholesaler receiving produce from a primary producer.
Both consignors and consignees must take reasonable steps to ensure the terms of any contract for road transport services will not result in a driver being encouraged or incentivised to drive while:
- In breach of their work and rest hours obligations under transport fatigue management laws, or
- In breach of any other law.
In addition, they must not make any scheduling demand that may cause a driver to drive while fatigued.
How to protect against breeches
As outlined above, penalties are imposed based on the severity of the breach and are usually enforced as administrative or court penalties.
If a business accumulates a number of breaches (even minor breaches), it could result in far heftier fines being applied.
It’s therefore vital that directors, managers, employees and all associated parties are aware of their responsibilities under the law and that appropriate CoR training, policies and procedures are in place to prevent any breaches.
According to law firm Holding Redlich:
“Companies can protect themselves against possible breaches by implementing CoR compliance policies and practices and demonstrating that they took reasonable steps to prevent breaches from occurring as a result of their activities.
“However, it is also logical to manage risk, reduce uncertainty and protect your livelihood by way of insurance.”
In addition to implementing CoR compliance policies and practices, companies should also consider insurance to cover against unintended breaches, the law firm says.
Insurance relating to a range of statutory regulations can protect parties in the supply chain, including directors and company officers, from potentially serious financial penalties, provided the actions aren’t grossly negligent or reckless.