If you drive a vehicle with a weight of more than 4.5 tonnes on any road in Australia (except Western Australia) then you may find yourself before a Local Court or Magistrates Court for Heavy Vehicle offences. The requirements under Queensland and New South Wales legislation in this area are now quite onerous since changes came into effect on 1 October 2018. The changes specifically relate to national safety legislation which has been enacted to improve the safety of transport services by imposing obligations on parties in the ‘chain of responsibility.’
Chain of responsibility
On 1 October 2018, the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) was amended to provide that every party in the heavy vehicle transport supply chain has a duty to ensure the safety of their transport activities. In addition, corporate entities, directors, partners and managers are accountable for the actions of people under their control. This is now known as the Chain of Responsibility (COR). This means that if you are a business owner or the owner of a company and you have drivers working directly for you, you can be held responsible for an offence even if you were not the driver of a vehicle at the time of the offence.
Under the changes, each person in the COR must take all reasonable steps to ensure that the driver of a fatigue-regulated heavy vehicle does not drive on a road while impaired by fatigue or breach road transport laws relating to fatigue. In addition to this, each person in the COR must take all reasonable steps to ensure a heavy vehicle driver can perform his or her duties without breaching road transport laws. Furthermore, if you consign, pack, load or receive goods as part of your business, you could be held liable for heavy vehicle offences that occur even though you do not drive a heavy vehicle.
What can I be charged with?
The most common heavy vehicle offences that are prosecuted in Local Court and Magistrates Courts relate to fatigue management, breaches of work diary requirements and also breaches of mass, dimension and load restraint requirements. Some offences can attract fines of up to $15,000.00. The legislation is aimed at keeping heavy vehicle drivers and companies accountable and to ensure that other road users are not put at risk by unsafe truck drivers. Whilst you may be lucky and receive a formal warning or an infringement notice with a fine and/or demerit points, if you receive a Court Attendance Notice or a Notice to Appear, it is crucial that you seek legal advice. Go To Court Lawyers can advise you and ensure you get the best possible outcome.
What happens if I have to go to court?
If you receive a Court Attendance Notice or Notice to Appear in court, you will be required to attend the court closest to where the offence occurred. If this court is in a location that you do not ordinarily reside in and you intend to plead guilty, your lawyer will be able to arrange for a plea of guilty to be entered and for the matter to be transferred to a court closer to you. Our solicitors can recommend steps you can take prior to court, such as completing a driver education course, in order to receive the best penalty possible.
If you are pleading not guilty to heavy vehicle offences, it will generally not be possible to have the matter transferred to a court closer to you as Prosecution witnesses generally reside in the area that the offence occurred.
Will I lose my license?
If you are at risk of accumulating demerit points that will result in you losing your Queensland Drivers License, our solicitors will be able to assess whether you are eligible to apply for a Special Hardship License so that you can continue to drive in order to make a living.
Unfortunately, in New South Wales you cannot apply for a Special Hardship License, so if you have a New South Wales Drivers Licence seeking legal advice is imperative. If your license becomes disqualified, it means that it will be disqualified in all States and Territories in Australia.
If you have been charged with heavy vehicle offences please contact Go To Court Lawyers for an obligation-free assessment of your situation.
By Sophie Dagg, Associate