NTC pushes for national pilot and escort driver scheme

By: Brad Gardner

The NTC has recommended a new national framework for pilot and escort vehicle drivers, but Western Australia is resisting change.

A new national accreditation scheme regulating drivers responsible for guiding oversize and over-mass loads is being proposed to harmonise the existing fragmented approach.

In a discussion paper released for public feedback, the National Transport Commission (NTC) has recommended a single framework to replace the multiple state and territory-based schemes that vary across borders.

The NTC says the differing requirements for pilot and escort drivers create inefficiencies for transport operators moving freight interstate and for drivers wanting to work in different areas of Australia.

"Each jurisdiction regulates who may operate as a pilot or escort vehicle driver, when they are required to accompany a load, and how they must function when operating," the NTC says.

"Further, there are no formal arrangements for mutual recognition of interstate pilot or escort drivers when loads are moved across borders."

Under the NTC’s proposal, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) will administer a framework that will govern registered and accredited pilots.

Registered pilots will be allowed to accompany loads between 3.5 metres and 4.5 metres wide. Drivers will need to have an open driver’s licence, complete a multiple choice test on piloting operations in their jurisdiction and submit to background checks to gain registration.

Accredited pilots will be able to accompany loads between 3.5 metres and 5.5 metres.

But those seeking accreditation will need to meet extra requirements, including completing recognised training and demonstrating a minimum level of experience escorting oversize loads.

The training involves passing six competencies that include vehicle inspection, piloting and escorting vehicles, coordinating breakdowns and controlling traffic.

Despite the push to harmonise regulations, Western Australia has already indicated it will not play ball on allowing registered pilots on its roads.

The state currently requires pilots to complete a number of competencies through a registered training organisation before being allowed on the road.

"It is noted that Western Australia would not consider allowing Registered Pilots into its jurisdiction, as this would represent a significant reduction in qualification, based on its current requirements for pilots," the discussion paper says.

The NTC says Queensland, Victoria and the Northern Territory have two levels covering pilots (registered and accredited), but only Queensland requires accreditation for both levels.

"By contrast, New South Wales, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania currently have no training or qualification requirements attached to pilot vehicle drivers," the discussion paper states.

The NTC says the trucking industry has expressed frustration with a lack of uniformity and differing requirements across jurisdictions.

"Different requirements caused confusion amongst operators and pilots seeking to work across borders. Variations between the state and territory approaches to the qualification, registration and administration of pilot and escort drivers remained a frustration to industry," the paper states.

It adds that consideration must be given to traffic control arrangements given that existing systems differ between the states and territories.

"Currently, the Northern Territory, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia allow pilots to undertake some level of traffic control," the discussion paper says.

"However, the means by which this may occur differ, with the Northern Territory, Queensland and Victoria permitting the use of stop/slow bats, while Western Australia allocates full Authorised Person status to appropriately qualified pilots."

The NTC says it wants to hear from pilot and escort drivers on the proposed scheme and how it should be structured. The industry has been given until February 21 to lodge submissions.

Work on developing a national scheme began in 2012 when state and territory representatives agreed a harmonised approach was necessary to meet the growing demand for moving overseas loads, particularly from the mining and agricultural industry.

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