Costly mis­takes as the 'flog book' strikes again

Driv­ers and in­dus­try con­tinue to ques­tion the rea­sons and ed­u­ca­tion be­hind mas­sive fines for log book er­ror

Big Rigs - - NEWS - RE­PORTER KIRSTIN PAYNE kirstin.payne@bi­grigs.com.au

MIS­TAKES, we all make them ev­ery day.

How­ever for driv­ers the con­se­quences of even the tini­est er­ror, have the po­ten­tial to be mon­strous, or at the very least ex­tremely costly – even if its just a spell­ing mis­take.

While the re­spon­si­bil­ity car­ried by our road trans­port com­mu­nity is great, many in­dus­try bod­ies and driv­ers them­selves con­tinue to ques­tion the fair­ness be­hind ex­or­bi­tant fines, for log book er­rors.

The lat­est wave of out­cry came as driver Russell Silk was whopped with a $23,000 fine and 33 de­merit points af­ter he was charged with a to­tal of 21 of­fences.

Mr Silk, a 53-year-old driver from Cur­rans Hill in New South Wales, ap­peared in Al­bury Lo­cal Court on charges, rang­ing from crit­i­cal to mi­nor rest work of­fences.

He was first charged in April 2016 when his B-dou­ble was stopped by Al­bury High­way pa­trol on the Hume High­way, Bowna, for the pur­pose of a heavy ve­hi­cle com­pli­ance in­spec­tion.

Po­lice in­spected his work diary and found that he had worked ex­ces­sive hours and had taken in­suf­fi­cient rest breaks.

Be­tween the Fe­bru­ary 3 and April 8 last year, he was found to have com­mit­ted six crit­i­cal risk work and rest hour of­fences and three se­vere risk work and rest hour of­fences.

He had also com­mit­ted two sub­stan­tial risk work and rest hour of­fences and seven mi­nor risk work and rest hour of­fences.

Po­lice also iden­ti­fied that the driver had made false and mis­lead­ing work diary en­tries.

As shock­ing as the penalty was, Russell is hardly the first to have been hit with a fine so sig­nif­i­cant.

Sim­i­lar cases

Ear­lier this month, a driver who had been in the game for three decades and hit with a $1200 log book fine, in court he de­scribed the sys­tem as just “bulls**t”.

He ques­tioned sev­eral ty­pos on his po­lice pa­per­work, in­clud­ing an in­cor­rect regis­tra­tion num­ber, and asked why he would have to suf­fer for a sim­i­lar cler­i­cal er­ror.

Ear­lier this year, a 44-year-old truckie has re­ceived $17,500 in fines with $900 in costs af­ter a Goul­burn mag­is­trate found him guilty of mak­ing five false or mis­lead­ing en­tries in his work diary.

In 2014, a Spring­field truckie couldn’t be­lieve his eyes when he opened a let­ter from the Lith­gow Court­house for $10,000 in fines.

He was booked by po­lice at a weigh­bridge for only hav­ing five hours’ rest in­stead of seven in a con­tin­u­ous block.

In 2011, a Vic­to­rian truck driver was fined $8500 for a crit­i­cal breach of driver fa­tigue laws as he drove across the coun­try af­ter he was de­tected by a Safe-T-Cam.

He recorded 18 hours’ work in a 24-hour pe­riod, six hours more than the leg­is­lated max­i­mum of 12 hours.

Even a 56-year-old Cowra farmer was stung with a $200 fine and $450 in pro­fes­sional costs af­ter be­ing charged with driv­ing at crit­i­cal risk.

The farmer, who rarely drove, said he was “rusty” with the log book, when checks re­vealed he’d only had five hours’ rest since 10.30pm the night be­fore.

Mercy of the court

As­so­ciate at Arm­strong Le­gal in Traf­fic and Crim­i­nal Law Sarah Mari­novic said while some fines are large, more of­ten than not driv­ers are not hit with the max­i­mum penalty.

“The rea­son they fine and pros­e­cute on these ones even when there isn’t a di­rect in­jury to some­one is that they need to be able to send an mes­sage to the in­dus­try that this is not about wait­ing for the in­jury to hap­pen and pun­ish at that stage,” she ex­plains.

How­ever, af­ter look­ing into NSW sta­tis­tics for fa­tigue re­lated of­fences, she found ma­jor fines for a sin­gle of­fence are quite rare.

“Most when I look at the av­er­ages work out to $500 and $2000 fines for crit­i­cal risk of­fences when fail­ing to take a rest break.”

A num­ber that could still add up if a driver is ac­cused of more than one mis­de­meanour.

“In terms of guilty or not guilty, very rarely will that

come into con­sid­er­a­tion, when it comes to sen­tenc­ing though the courts do have enor­mous dis­cre­tion,” she said.

“In my ex­pe­ri­ence, where its an hon­est mis­take and in the con­text of some­one who hasn’t had one of these be­fore, or maybe has had one pre­vi­ously with a good ex­pla­na­tion for why this time is dif­fer­ent, there is ac­tu­ally a lot of scope for the court to be le­nient.

“The sta­tis­tics I have looked at for these driver fa­tigue of­fences show fines range from any­where about 15% of the max­i­mum penalty to 45%.

Need for ed­u­ca­tion

While the courts may use their dis­cre­tion, in­dus­try groups are still ask­ing why such a com­plex sys­tem has max­i­mum penal­ties set so high.

Re­cently, the ATA used a sam­ple work diary page to demon­strate to a gov­ern­ment department just how con­fus­ing and pa­per­work heavy the in­dus­try is.

“In our re­cent ev­i­dence to the Se­nate road safety in­quiry, we also pointed out that driv­ers do not get enough train­ing in fa­tigue man­age­ment (in­clud­ing us­ing work di­aries),” ATA’s Bill McKin­ley said.

Sep­a­rately, NatRoad has called on the Na­tional Heavy Ve­hi­cle fa­tigue rules “to be ur­gently re­viewed”.

“Truck driv­ers face ex­or­bi­tant fines on a daily ba­sis due to these pre­scrip­tive rules. In re­al­ity, the rules are so com­plex that mis­takes are eas­ily made. Fines in the hun­dreds of dol­lars for ad­min­is­tra­tive mis­takes don’t in­crease road safety,” the spokesman said.

“Due to the highly de­tailed na­ture of these laws, train­ing on the work and rest re­quire­ments is es­sen­tial for driv­ers and, for the fu­ture, should be part of heavy ve­hi­cle driver li­cens­ing.”

The last re­view into the sit­u­a­tion came in 2012, when sig­nif­i­cant moves were made by the in­dus­try to re­vise the na­tional work diary and im­prove us­abil­ity by re­mov­ing re­dun­dant re­quire­ments.

Since the re­vi­sion, the NHVR con­tends the in­for­ma­tion a driver needs to know in or­der to use the diary and com­ply with the fa­tigue man­age­ment laws are con­tin­ued in the in­tro­duc­tion pages.

If a driver has any dif­fi­culty un­der­stand­ing the in­struc­tions, they have the op­por­tu­nity to call NHVR for as­sis­tance, or pur­sue the Department of Ed­u­ca­tion’s Work­place English Lan­guage and Lit­er­acy (WELL) Pro­gram, which of­fers a unit on the diary, the Com­plete a work diary in the road trans­port in­dus­try.

Fed­eral fund­ing has been pro­vided to Trans­port and Dis­tri­bu­tion Train­ing Vic­to­ria to for the pro­duc­tion of a Writ­ten Work Diary train­ing video, and the gov­ern­ment con­tends the Heavy Ve­hi­cle Safety and Pro­duc­tiv­ity Pro­gramme, which will re­ceive $40 mil­lion each year from 2021-22 on top of the cur­rent $328 mil­lion will play its part.

Min­is­ter for Trans­port Darren Ch­ester said cur­rent sys­tem though en­forced by the states, is all about fa­tigue man­age­ment.

“The im­po­si­tion of fines is just one way driver fa­tigue is man­aged, with the con­se­quences of non-com­pli­ance, in­clud­ing the fi­nan­cial cost of in­fringe­ments, based on the cal­cu­la­tion of risk – if you are a re­peat of­fender, the im­pact of non-com­pli­ance will be greater,” he said.

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