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Danger in dispensing with your work diary

OPINION: Losing the logbook is a step in the wrong direction, placing more pressure on owner-drivers

 

Let’s be honest: no one really likes Australia’s logbook system. It’s an old-school model which doesn’t respond effectively to what it’s actually like out on the road in 2022.

Every so often, one group or another pops up and suggests we change it. That’s a good thing – we should always be looking at ways we can make things easier and more efficient in transport, particularly given just how tough the industry can be.

The problem is that, more often than not, the suggestion proposed is to just scrap logbooks altogether without replacing them with a strong system to monitor industry safety in their place.

Recently, it was the Australian Trucking Association’s (ATA) turn.

The ATA says it’s frustrated with the lack of industry reform in recent years. Its solution is a new Road Transport Act that would abolish work diaries entirely and make it the responsibility of transport companies to document work hours to ensure fatigue rules are followed.

On first read, one could think that’s a great idea – we’ve all had situations where we’re meticulously completing our logbooks at a time when we’d much rather be resting or having a meal. Not to mention the fact that making sure we’re regularly sending copies home every seven days feels like the last thing you want to be worrying about when you’re hurtling down the Pacific Highway.

Yet, as always, when you look under the bonnet of these proposals, you realise there’s a lot more wrong with what the ATA is trying to achieve than there is right.

Yes, physical logbooks can be frustrating and out-dated, and fines for minor infractions only make the financial squeeze we’re under as owner-drivers more significant – but there’s a couple of things to remember.

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The ATA doesn’t represent drivers’ interests: it’s there to advocate for transport companies. For all its talk about wanting to make it easier for us to do our important work, at the end of the day, its primary focus is to make it easier for transport bosses to get ahead.

That’s why I always take the views of groups like the ATA with a grain of salt – is it only proposing these sorts of changes because it would be more advantageous to the transport companies who already have incredible power over the industry?

Deadly pressure

The idea of handing transport companies complete control over drivers’ hours would somehow make trucking safer and more efficient would be hilarious if it wasn’t so serious. Removing drivers’ ability to independently document working hours is one of the only tools we have to limit the deadly pressure from transport companies to take risks on the road.

Any drivers with industry experience will tell you it’s not uncommon for transport companies to make what they’d call “suggestions” about how we work. In reality, it’s just these companies ramping up the pressure on drivers to speed, skip breaks and drive tired because the deadline set for drivers to complete runs are just so unrealistic.

Giving companies exclusive control over record-keeping would only give them more power to cover up these pressures. It’s like putting the cat in charge of the canary.

If the ATA was actually serious about backing drivers and fixing up the logbook system, it’d be advocating for something like electronic logbooks instead – something that’s always spoken about, but never seems to be implemented successfully.


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Refining electronic logbooks and rolling them out industry-wide would do two things: it could provide real-time information about dangerous pressures and risk-taking before something tragic happens and would ensure that no one can cheat the system.

That’s not to say an electronic system would itself be perfect. Questions of what is being recorded, who can access the data and in what circumstances, and penalties for breaches, would still need to be fine-tuned.

But we should be looking at ways we can progress something like electronic logbooks instead of just throwing the baby out the bathwater because, apparently – at least according to the ATA’s views – no system is better than a system with problems.

The worst time to make important decisions is when you’re angry or frustrated. That’s why we shouldn’t jump the gun and decide to dump logbooks altogether just because
the current system is burdensome on drivers.

The best thing we could be doing to progress industry reform is to listen to the men and women behind the wheel, not transport bosses in corner offices who don’t really get what it’s like for us out on the road. At the end of the day, we are the ones who have to live and work with the consequences of these hare-brained decisions, so our views should be considered of equal, if not more, importance to some of the industry’s biggest players.

In announcing its proposal, the ATA described the last few years as a “reform circus” for trucking – but with dangerous ideas like these, they only adding extra clowns to the circus.

 

*FRANK BLACK has been a long distance owner-driver for more than 30 years. He is a former owner-driver representative on the Australian Trucking Association Council.

 

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