On 1 May 2019, the SA Government passed new laws affecting drivers of trucks and buses on the SE Freeway. The law I have been focussing on for the past few months is the offence of exceeding the speed limit by more than 10kph (ie, driving more than 70kph on that stretch of freeway). The devastating consequence of this offence is a six month licence disqualification for a first offence, the penalty increasing for subsequent offences. There is NOTHING that can be done to reduce the disqualification period.
I have written previously about this law here: http://www.stanleylaw.com.au/truck-and-bus-speed-laws-south-australia/
In the first two months, 380 expiation notices were issued, 267 of those for driving at more than 10kph over the speed limit. That’s just to 30 June 2019. Figures for the last three months haven’t been released yet.
I have been called by over 100 drivers who have either been disqualified or are facing disqualification. Not one of those drivers knew that their vehicle met the definition of a truck or bus. It’s obvious that there is genuine confusion about what vehicles are affected. The more I look into what is going on, the more I understand the confusion.
SOURCES OF CONFUSION
Since late 2014 the speed limit for truck and buses on the downtrack of the SE Freeway has been 60kph. However, until this year, the speed cameras were only able to detect the speeds of vehicles with 5 or more axles. New cameras able to detect vehicles by registration number were installed in April 2019, less than a month before these new laws came into effect. So while drivers of the large heavy vehicles like semis and B doubles have known about these laws since 2014 (via expiation notices if they drove more than 60kph) drivers of smaller trucks and buses have not received any expiations. They have been merrily driving down the freeway for five years, not knowing that their vehicles are affected. In effect, they have been breaking the law for five years, for some drivers every day, but nobody has bothered to tell them. The new cameras have changed everything, unfortunately without any notice, and with the substantial penalty of a mandatory six month disqualification.
What is a truck or bus?
A truck is defined as “a motor vehicle with a GVM of over 4.5 tonnes”. A bus is “a motor vehicle built mainly to carry people that seats over 12 adults (including the driver)”. That seems straightforward enough. But there are real inconsistencies in how this is applied by various government departments that make it understandable that drivers are confused.
There are several different licence classes. A “C” class licence allows a driver to drive vehicles up to 4.5GVM and buses with up to 12 seats. Vehicles over that limit require a heavy vehicle licence: LR, MR or HR and upwards. Here is a link to the various licence classes and the restrictions: https://www.sa.gov.au/topics/driving-and-transport/licences/drivers-licence/driver-s-licence-classes
In addition, sometimes a holder of a C licence is given an exemption to drive a vehicle over 4.5GVM without the need to have a heavy vehicle licence (eg. Tow truck). So there are drivers of vehicles that meet the definition of a “truck” who are not required to undergo any heavy vehicle training.
You would think that this one would be pretty clear. In fact, it is anything but straightforward.
Here are some technical definitions:
GVM – Gross Vehicle Mass. This is the maximum the vehicle can weigh when fully loaded. It does not include towing capacity.
GCM – Gross Combined Mass. This is the maximum combined weight allowed for the vehicle and anything it is towing.
Tare/Mass – The actual unladen weight of the vehicle.
There are lots of other measurements of capacity including Kerb Mass, Payload, Gross Vehicle Axle Mass, etc.
Some vehicle manufacturers specify what the GVM of a vehicle is. Some manufacturers don’t and owners need to do a complicated calculation involving some or all of the above weights to arrive at a GVM. Sometimes it is actually impossible for a driver to calculate a GVM for a vehicle using commonly available information.
Some imported vehicles have had their GVM reduced to 4.495GVM so they can be driven on a “C” licence, but are still registered as having a GVM over 4.5GVM. Some imported vehicles are over 4.5GVM but have the capacity to have alterations to bring the GVM down, but the retailers don’t necessarily advise owners. There is no legal obligation for retailers to advise owners of the GVM of a vehicle or whether they are required to hold a particular licence.
Of particular concern is that there is a serious inconsistency in how vehicles are registered. A lot of drivers use the registration details of a particular vehicle as a source of information. I have seen some registrations where one weight is recorded as “GVM or GCM” or “TARE or GVM”. Some registration certificates include the undefined term “Mass”, with no reference to GVM. Clearly they are very different weights. It’s no wonder that drivers don’t know what the GVM of their vehicle is.
Incorrect Registration Details
This is a big one. Some vehicle manufacturers make buses of the same model in both 12 and 14 seat combinations. All those buses are registered as having 14 seats. This means that 12 seat buses, which are not bound by the speed restrictions, are being captured. Car hire companies are advertising 14 seat buses as vehicles that can be driven with a “C” class licence. I have spoken to a number of drivers who have lost their licences, even though they were driving 12 seat buses which are not subject to the speed restriction. The attitude of SAPOL, who is in charge of the Expiation Notice Branch, is that it is what the vehicle is registered as that matters, not the actual configuration of the vehicle.
This inconsistency within Registration details is evident elsewhere as well. One example is that the new law applies to “trucks and buses”, but the use of the terms within registration certificates is not consistent. Often vehicles with a less than 4.5GVM are listed with the Body Type of Truck. Despite this, they are not trucks for the purpose of this law. Other vehicles with more than 4.5GVM are not listed as something other than a truck.
Heavy Vehicle Laws
The Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) applies to all vehicles over 4.5GVM. However, most of this legislation is directed towards onerous requirements for drivers of vehicles with a GVM of 12 tonnes, known as “fatigue related heavy vehicles”. It is understandable that there is a perception that the truck speed limits only applies to vehicles over 12GVM.
Public awareness campaign
Despite claims by the Transport Minister that there was a “comprehensive communications campaign” about these new laws, it is clear that the message hasn’t gotten through to driver/operators of the small trucks and buses. While there is evidence that owners of heavy vehicles were provided with information regarding the new changes, many drivers of vehicles that are captured by the new laws don’t actually own the vehicles they drive and were therefore not informed about the changes that have taken place.
Even from this brief synopsis it is clear that the government and government departments have some serious questions to answer about how this law was implemented, how it is being administered and whether the way in which the whole process has been handled has been fair. Governments can’t just pass a law without properly notifying those affected. And that is exactly what has happened here.