Opinion, Robert Bell

Truck drivers overtaken by inequity – Highway Advocates


In a recent enquiry conducted by the New South Wales government, interested parties were invited to make submissions about the pressures placed upon truck drivers in NSW.

As a state that has the greatest amount of heavy vehicle traffic passing through it, the aptly named ‘Pressures on Heavy Vehicle Drivers and their Impact on New South Wales’ sought to find answers to some vexing issues.

Our submission, number 22 in a list of 24, sought to address the specific terms of reference set down by the Parliamentary Committee. One of the points we made was the sheer number of enforcement authorities and relevant legislation that is applied against heavy vehicle drivers and operators.

Let’s imagine you are a truck driver and you pass under a Safe-T-Cam gantry just east of Balranald, for instance. That camera is situated just over a kilometre from the roadhouse on the eastern side of Balranald.

Let’s also say that you are driving a prime mover with over 600hp and, as you set out on your eastbound journey towards Sydney, you come across a slower moving road train, for instance.

While the defined Safe-T-Cam zone has double lines, just east of it is over 2.5km of long straight road, a perfect overtaking environment some might say.

Does anyone know what a Safe-T-Cam or average speed zone is by the way? Let me tell you it is not easy to find.

A Safe-T-Cam zone means a length of road to which a Safe-T-Cam sign applies, being a length of road beginning at a Safe-T-Cam sign and ending 100 metres along the length of road in the direction driven by a driver on the road who faces the sign before passing it.

The relevant piece of legislation passing that gem of legalese is the Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Amendment (Safe-t-Cam) Regulation 2001.

The explanatory note attached to this piece of legislation states that the object of this regulation is to amend the Road Transport (Driver Licensing) Regulation 1999 to increase the demerit points incurred by certain traffic offences when committed by the drivers of heavy vehicles in the vicinity of a Safe-T-Cam.

Going back now to our 600hp truck being driven by a driver preparing to overtake a slower moving vehicle in what may be described as a perfect overtaking environment.

The Road Rules 2014 (NSW) provide at rule 140, but a driver must not overtake a vehicle unless the driver has a clear view of any approaching traffic, and the driver can safely overtake the vehicle. To safely overtake a vehicle, it is fair to say, you are going to be closer than 60 metres behind it when you commence to overtake it.

Furthermore, Road Rule 144 provides that a driver overtaking a vehicle must pass the vehicle at a sufficient distance to avoid a collision with a vehicle or obstructing the path of the vehicle and must not returned the mark lane or line of traffic where the vehicle is travelling until the driver is a sufficient distance past the vehicle to avoid a collision with a vehicle or obstructing the path of the vehicle.

So you safely pass the slower moving vehicle, and continue your way, never giving it a second thought. That is until you receive a penalty notice in the mail telling you that you must pay $1,545 and that you will lose four demerit points for your troubles.

The penalty notice will tell you that you are receiving this because you committed the offence of ‘Follow long m/v too closely – class B/C m/v in a Safe-T-Cam zone’. This fine might come some months after the alleged offence date, and you probably sit there racking your brains wondering how this came about.

You just got a dose of Revenue NSW, Transport for NSW, making it just another one of the pressures placed upon truck drivers in NSW. Many of you will be thinking, how is that offence allowed to happen?

Minimum distance

Well, the short answer is, it isn’t. The actual offence you will be charged with is Road Rule 127(1) – The driver of a long vehicle must drive at least the required minimum distance behind another long vehicle travelling in front of the driver, unless the driver is driving on a multi-lane road or any length of road in a built-up area, or overtaking. The definition of overtaking in the Road Rules includes preparing to overtake.

So, to cut a long story short, you would have received a penalty notice for an offence that is not known at law, for obeying one road rule that provides that you must overtake safely, while the actual offence you are charged with provides a defence if you are overtaking another vehicle.

This is just one example, but there are many others. This offence adds aggravating circumstances to a road rule that may not contain such elements.

There is a lot more we could tell you about this offence and many others, but space defeats us at this juncture. If you receive one of these penalty notices, send it to us here at Highway Advocates.

We can explain to the court that this offence is not what it seems to be, in many cases. We have assisted clients in similar circumstances where the outcomes have been no conviction, no fines, and no loss of points.

Robert Bell

Robert Bell, together with his team of legal professionals, are Highway Advocates Pty Ltd, a legal practice focused on heavy vehicle drivers and operators. It is their unique ‘Industry Insider’ advantage that keeps them at the forefront of this area of law. Robert’s experience in the transport industry, coupled with his insight, is a guiding force for the team of legal professionals appearing in Courts all around Australia, achieving outcomes that consistently exceed expectations. Highway Advocates are lawyers to the heavy vehicle industry, keeping you on the road where you belong. Contact Highway Advocates on 1300 238 028 or send your court notices and enquires to info@highwayadvocates.com.au

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