Weekly News – Transport Ministers Meet, ABS exemption talks, Fatigue

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TRANSPORT MINISTERS MEET IN LAUNCESTON

ALRTA National President Grant Robins travelled to Launceston this week to observe the meeting of the Transport and Infrastructure Ministerial Council. As mentioned in last week’s newsletter, vehicle roadworthiness and executive officer liability will be high on the agenda.

We have written to all key Federal and State and Territory Ministers on these issues and in addition have raised our concerns about the current resourcing of the NHVR and associated industry consultation processes.

Ministerial Council outcomes remain unknown at the time of publishing this newsletter, but if you can’t wait for the ALRTA analysis next week, you should be able to find the official communique here on Friday afternoon: http://www.transportinfrastructurecouncil.gov.au/communique/

ALRTA MEETS FEDERAL DEPARTMENT ON MANDATORY ABS

This week I met with Senior Officials from the Vehicle Standards Section of the Federal Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development to discuss our proposal for a technical amendment to Australian Design Rule 38/04 to ensure that the current general ABS exemption for heavy trailers applies to heavy A-trailers – as we believe was originally intended.

If not urgently corrected, ABS will become mandatory for all new A-trailers from 1 January 2015, even when they already meet minimum performance standards.

Last week, our proposal was considered by the Australian Motor Vehicle Certification Board and an industry/government Technical Liaison Group. While there is some diversity of views on this matter, we have a very strong argument that the operational weight over the axles of an unladen A-trailer in combination does in fact meet the minimum performance threshold (which requires more than 7.5t over the axle group when coupled to a drawing vehicle).

In an unladen combination, while the tare mass of the trailers is quite different, the actual operational mass over the axles is evenly distributed and exceeds 7.5t in both cases. However, under the current rules, the tag trailer is exempt while the A-trailer is not.

To correctly assess operational mass over the axles for an A-trailer the weight transferred both off and onto an A-trailer must be considered. It is easy to see that this is a technical issue rather than a safety issue.

The ALRTA formally wrote to Minister Briggs on this matter and subsequently met with the Minister on 22 October 2014. It is fair to say that the Minister is highly safety conscious but is also mindful of the need to avoid mandating new technology in environments where it is known to be problematic.

After hearing the views and counter-views of all stakeholders we are increasingly confident that a favourable decision will be announced in the very near future. Stay tuned.

AFM UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT

This week the NHVR convened a meeting to discuss the roll out of the new system for Advanced Fatigue Management (AFM). Three ALRTA member operators with approved AFM systems and I participated in the meeting.

There have been a lot of promises made over the past few years of a lower-cost, more flexible fatigue system that would appeal to ‘thousands’ of operators.

Industry participants were quite understandably concerned about the risk classification system (RCS) assessment tool and the make-up of the Fatigue Expert Reference Group (FERG). There is no operator representation on FERG and the RCS appears not to be performing its function of diverting lower risk applications from proceeding to the more costly and less certain FERG process.  Consequently, FERG will get bogged down and new applicants could be waiting up to 12 months for an assessment.

These issues are causing current AFM operators to become increasingly worried about the prospect of losing important elements of their proven systems when they are forced to transition into the new system by 31 December 2015. And with current resourcing levels, the NHVR is clearly struggling to adequately consult with current AFM operators, consider new applications and develop a range of new templates that in the longer-term will make the whole system easier for everyone.

I was heartened to hear that the NHVR CEO has made a commitment to shift some internal resources to help deal with the workload and improve consultation processes. While this will no doubt improve operational capacity, I suspect that more fundamental changes will be required if AFM is to reach its full potential and become an appealing option for the ‘thousands’ of operators that need access to a level of flexibility that will dramatically improve their business productivity and the lifestyles of their drivers.

Appointment of an experienced AFM operator to FERG; refining the RCS to consider the frequency with which an applicant intends to use outer-limits; and feeding previous FERG decisions back into the early phase of the application process would all be significant steps in the right direction.

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