Prior to 2014, each state and territory had their own laws concerning heavy vehicle offences. The Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) came into existence in 2014 and currently applies in most Australian states including Queensland. The national law is overseen by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator. It applies not solely to drivers but also to any parties concerned with the road transport supply chain. Every person within the chain is accountable for preventing breaches of the laws. Additionally, companies, directors, partners and managers can be held answerable for the actions of the individuals under their control. This is referred to as the chain of responsibility (COR). Heavy vehicle traffic offences in Queensland that are committed by persons in the chain are subject to the reasonable steps defence.
The penalties depend on how much the load is over the allowable weight, whether the person is an individual or body corporate and if the offence is a first or subsequent offence.
- A minor risk breach is up to 5% above the allowable weight.
- A substantial risk breach is between 5% and 20% above the allowable weight.
- A severe risk breach is above 20% above the allowable weight. The penalties are calculated on the total overladen amount, and increase with each percent the overload exceeds 20% of the allowable weight. If a vehicle is overloaded, the Department of Transport and Mail Roads may charge anyone in the chain of responsibility for the offence. These persons may be able to rely on the reasonable steps
It is an offence for any person to request that the driver of a heavy vehicle exceed the speed limit. Further, all persons who are responsible for the use of the vehicle must take all reasonable steps to make certain that their activities don’t lead to the vehicle’s driver exceeding speed limits, or they may also be liable for penalties. This includes:
- Anyone who schedules the activities of the driver or the vehicle.
- Loading managers who are responsible for loading goods onto and unloading goods from the vehicle.
- Persons who consign or those who receive the goods.
If a speeding offence is committed by a driver, the driver’s employer, contractor or operator are additionally taken to have committed an offence. All persons in the chain of responsibility may rely on the reasonable steps defence.
The penalties for work and rest hour offences are based on the risk category of the offence. There are 4 categories – minor, substantial, major and critical. All of these offences carry substantial fines and major risk and critical risk breaches also carry demerit points. The risk categories are calculated on how many minutes a person worked outside of their allowable work or rest hours. For a driver, defences include proving that you did take sufficient breaks, that you did not feel or act fatigued, or that you have another excuse for your manner of driving. A person who is in the chain of responsibility and who is charged with a work or rest hour’s offence might be able to use the reasonable steps defence.
The driver fatigue laws apply to the driving of any fatigue-regulated heavy vehicle. These are vehicles, or combination of vehicles, or some buses with a GVM of over 8 tonnes and with 3 or more axles. There are some exceptions. These laws fall within the chain of responsibility regime and people other than the driver may be charged with an offence of driving while ability to drive safely is affected by fatigue. Everyone in the chain of responsibility must take all reasonable steps to ensure that a person doesn’t drive when fatigued. A particular person’s obligations vary depending on their role in the chain. A person may be guilty of this offence even though nobody ultimately drove while fatigued.
The HVNL requires that records are kept of specific data for drivers of fatigue regulated heavy vehicles. Depending on the driver’s employment status, the person keeping the record may be the employer, accredited operator, or the driver. The records must be kept for 3 years and must be made available for inspection when requested.
- Formal warnings – these may be given if a person had taken all reasonable steps to prevent a breach of the law and was unaware that the law had been broken. A warning can’t be given for a breach of a mass, dimension or loading requirement that’s a substantial risk breach or severe risk breach. A warning can be withdrawn within 21 days and further legal action taken for the offence.
- An infringement notice can be issued for a fine and/or demerit points.
- Court proceedings – the court has the power to impose – fines, demerit points, commercial benefits penalty orders, cancellation/suspension of vehicle registration, prohibition orders, compensation orders, supervisory intervention orders.