OPINION: An unnecessary ticket

An overzealous NSW highway patrol officer uncovers a minor logbook lapse, my first in 30 years



In December I was stopped in Gilgandra by Highway Patrol for a random logbook and licence check. No problem. "I won’t be long," he said, taking my book back to the car. Over 20 minutes later it seemed he came back and said, "You have exceeded 14 hours in a 24-hour period". I replied that there will be a 7-hour break in there and asked was he aware of nose to tail shifts. He said he had never heard of it, would check it out and if not satisfied, will send me the ticket. I did ask if he looked at my record and he said, "Yes, it’s not bad".

I got the ticket in the mail and wrote back seeking a review. You only get so many characters in the box they provide, not so many words and I ran out of room. I was leaving to go to work but thought, "that should do". I received a reply – still guilty. I wrote again offering further information, this time writing it all out and attaching it on a separate document. Still guilty. I replied and I was off to court.

For the record

I wrote this to cover it all for myself before I went:

1. The alleged offence on November 26, 2018 was not intentional. I did not drive 14 plus hours straight. I overlapped a half hour. It can be difficult to remember every period driven and your breaks and to do so, you must then continually go back and forth in your logbook. Having had a 7-hour break the night before, had things gone as normal, I would have been later getting out of Melbourne and then been legal. It is unusual to get out of Melbourne early and as I went in empty and was lucky to get loaded straight away. I thought "this is good; I will beat the traffic and get most of the way home for a good night’s sleep".

2. The logbook states in rules for counting time, "Count time periods of 24 hours or longer forward from the end of a relevant major rest break relevant to the period in your hours option." Who then decides what is the "relevant" period? If it is about managing fatigue, I only worked for six and a quarter hours, then had a 7-hour break. I did not have to go far to go to bed, nor to start work. My truck is fitted with an Icepack, a refrigerated air conditioning system that ensures consistent temperature and covers much outside noise, so I did get good sleep in that break. I also ensured that sleep was from around midnight and did so again the next day, so I have made every effort to be off the road in the very early hours of the morning, recognised as the worst time for fatigue. I overlapped at 6.15pm the following night and did have a break from 7pm until 7.45pm for my tea and then stopped at Parkes at 12.15am for 9 and a quarter hours’ break. I stopped to manage my fatigue; I was not in any way shape or form fatigued at 6.15pm.

3. On Wednesday, November 28 at 5.30pm, two days after the alleged breach, I was stopped and inspected. My logbook was checked and signed at Daroolbalgie with no concern raised. This officer must obviously have used the end of the seven hour period as the "relevant" period. He obviously did not detect me then as fatigued, nor see me as in breach.

4. The logbook requires us to operate in 15 minute periods. We are required to count work time forward and so can "lose" and/or give away work time. In the 24 hour period in question, I stopped eight times. Even if I lost only three minutes each of those times – and it could have been up to 10 minutes – then it is quite likely if the actual time was counted I may not have exceeded 14 hours. I have already previously written to the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator asking for the wording to be changed to read, "Count forward from the last major rest break" to both allow us a minor amount of flexibility and to overcome this type of overlap error and the subsequent penalties. I have also written, and will be doing so again, to the current Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) Review, seeking this change and a way to recognise a good record and allow one mistake in a given period.

5. I reiterated that I asked the officer if he had looked at my record and he said it was "not bad". I have driven interstate for 30 years, done six million kilometres and never had a single logbook offence and only one speeding warning. I have never ever "lost" a logbook to hide an error and am very involved in road safety and try to do the right thing. I would hope you might agree one minor overlap in 30 years is not the record of a law breaker and that with this, a warning, again considering the Roads and Maritime Services saw no breach, would have been reasonable. I will be writing the HVNL review asking to have something put in place that will allow a minor error every five years (or around one million kilometres for most interstate truck drivers) as no one is perfect. All drivers are allowed one mistake in every 10 years in NSW for a minor traffic offence and I think this is reasonable considering they will only do possibly 200,000 kilometres and we do that each year.

Out of pocket

I represented myself as I was already out over $700 wages plus fuel costs to Gilgandra, etc. I was up to point three when the magistrate said, "It is dismissed; you can stop worrying about it now." I replied I will be asking for the HVNL review to include the suggestion above and the magistrate said she would consider one mistake in five years not too bad. I said "so is one in 30 is pretty good then?"

Why must it cost so much to get a fair go? Did the copper just need another ticket? Did the review panel just say, "bugger him"? Who controls this? I will ask and will pursue this for all.

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