Fatigue management disagreement leads to uncertainty for truck drivers

By: Brad Gardner

Governments can’t reach consensus on the definition of a relevant major rest break.

Fatigue management disagreement leads to uncertainty for truck drivers
NTC CEO Paul Retter supports the adoption of the NSW definition of relevant major rest break.


Truck drivers are again at risk of being dealt with inconsistently under fatigue management regulations because governments cannot agree on what constitutes a relevant major rest break.

New South Wales and South Australia have adopted the same definition but Victoria and Queensland have gone their own way, despite all states operating under a national heavy vehicle framework.

NSW defines ‘relevant’ as relevant to the fatigue management module the driver is working under. The definition stems from a court case in NSW known as the Trinci decision, which dealt with fatigue management.

"New South Wales is bound  by the Trinci decision and South Australia has also chosen to follow the decision. Victoria does not agree with the decision, while feedback from Queensland suggests there is no settled approach and enforcement may vary from officer to officer," the NTC says in a recently released report, Counting Time and Residual Fatigue Risk.

The NTC recommended an amendment to fatigue management provisions contained in the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL), which the four states enacted earlier this year, to adopt the definition from the Trinci case.

The definition is used in the new national work diary, but transport ministers could not reach a consensus on adding it to the HVNL when they met in May.

The inconsistency has led to fatigue management regulations being interpreted and enforced differently across borders, according to the NTC.

"The difference arises because ‘relevant major rest break’ is not defined in the HVNL, and states have adopted different interpretations of ‘relevant’," its report says.

The NTC adds that the matter is causing a level of confusion among industry and enforcement agencies.

"‘Relevant’ should mean the longest continuous rest break required in a given period for each work and rest hours option, consistent with the New South Wales Trinci decision, where ‘relevant’ means relevant to the fatigue management module under which the driver is operating," the NTC says.

"For example, a driver using standard hours must have at least seven hours continuous rest in 24 hours, so a rest break lasting at least seven continuous hours would be the relevant major rest break in a 24-hour period under standard hours."

NTC CEO Paul Retter says adopting the definition from the Trinci decision will "remove all doubt".

Despite the NTC’s report stating otherwise, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) believes the regulations are being enforced consistently.

"Part of the ongoing role of the NHVR is work with state-based agencies to ensure consistency in the way that the [HVNL] law is applied. While this is primarily a role for the NHVR, they have indicated that their expectation is that the work diary is being consistently interpreted and enforced across Australia," Retter says.

He says the inconsistency should not lead to cases of drivers being wrongly accused of committing fatigue breaches.

"Drivers complying with the instructions in the national driver work diary should not have any problems," Retter says.

"The NTC and the NHVR will continue to monitor the impact of this issue."

The disagreement among governments is the latest inconsistency to dog fatigue management regulations since their introduction in 2008.

Until recently, Victoria and South Australia counted time differently than NSW and Queensland when determining if a truck driver was compliant with their fatigue obligations.

It led to cases of drivers being compliant in one state and non-compliant in another.

Jurisdictions also adopted different limits for work hours under the much maligned advanced fatigue management (AFM) regime. 

Almost half of the truck drivers who took part in a survey last year blamed fatigue management regulations for an increase in the number of fatigue-related incidents.

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