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First prosecution under tough Australian motor vehicle chain of responsibility laws: what might this mean for New Zealand?

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Grant Nicholson

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Grant Nicholson

Australia has strengthened its heavy vehicle transport Chain of Responsibility (COR) requirements and aligned them with workplace health and safety laws.

The purpose of this reform was to clarify requirements, encourage a greater focus on proactive risk management in the transport chain, and to provide tougher penalties for non-compliance. Similar changes may be on the horizon as part of the Government’s strategy to improve road safety here too.

The chain of responsibility

In New Zealand the Land Transport Act 1998 (LTA) imposes a duty on “every person” in a transport supply chain to ensure the safety of any transport activities. This casts a wide net and means that everyone within a business’ transport supply chain from schedulers, drivers, to the management team is collectively responsible for the safety of the chain’s transport operations, and may be legally liable if something goes wrong.  This is, however, a toothless tiger with a maximum fine of up to $25,000.

Companies involved in:

  • consigning, receiving, loading or packing goods;
  • operating and/or driving a vehicle that moves goods;
  • planning the pick-up and/or delivery of goods; and
  • dispatching the vehicle moving goods

all have responsibilities under the LTA.

An example of the COR in action is a commercial truck driver getting caught driving over the speed limit, and not having taken his statutory rest breaks.  This may have been caused by a delay in the packing or loading of the goods, or an unreasonable delivery window being imposed by the logistics planner, delaying the driver and encouraging speeding and skipping a break in order to make up the lost time.  In this situation, the packer, loader, and logistics planner are all potentially liable for breaching the LTA, as they are all part of the chain.  In reality, prosecutions are rare.

Developments in the law in Australia, and a move to stronger enforcement in New Zealand?

In 2018 amendments to Australia’s COR legislation came into force. The law now imposes a positive duty of care, requiring each person in a COR to take a proactive approach to ensuring the safety of others in the same COR.  It also allows for tougher penalties against wrongdoers.

Cases under the new Australian law are just now being seen.  Victorian company N Godfrey Haulage Pty Ltd has been charged by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) with breaching its fatigue management duties to drivers.  The NHVR also charged the company’s director with failing to exercise due diligence to ensure the company complied with its duties.  The NHVR is concerned drivers are being put under unacceptable pressure at depots and loading docks and that the people responsible for this need to be held accountable.  We will be watching the outcome of this case with interest.

Changes may be on the horizon in New Zealand too as the Government implements strategies to improve the country’s road safety.  The Government recently released its “Road to Zero” road safety strategy for 2020-2030. The report recognises that New Zealand has a poor history of road safety, and that about 25% of road fatalities involve a person driving for work, making vehicle crashes the single largest cause of work related fatalities.

Work-related road safety is a critical issue for the Government’s new strategy.  We expect the Government to consider ways to enforce COR (and other road related health and safety) obligations more heavily over the coming years.  Following Australia’s lead and expanding the duty of care owed across the COR is an obvious solution.

If you would like advice on how to ensure your business is meeting COR requirements and other road related health and safety obligations, please contact Grant Nicholson and his team of expert health and safety lawyers.

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