Heavy Vehicles - Large trucks
The traffic laws of New South Wales pay particular attention to large trucks and other heavy vehicles. Road rules are different for drivers of heavy vehicles. The consequences of committing a traffic offence while driving a heavy vehicle are often more serious than those that apply to drivers of passenger cars.
The Heavy Vehicle National Law defines a heavy vehicle as a vehicle that has a Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) or Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) of more than 4.5 tonnes, or a combination with a GVM or ATM of more than 4.5 tonnes. The Heavy Vehicle National Law provides a uniform standard of regulation that most states and territories, including New South Wales, have adopted.
Some NSW laws that govern heavy vehicles, including offences such as drink driving, are not covered by the Highway Vehicle National Law. The national law, as adopted in NSW, covers such issues as vehicle load standards, vehicle dimensions, driver fatigue, and speeding.
This page addresses some of the common laws and regulations that might result in the assessment of penalties against heavy vehicle drivers. Since a driver’s livelihood may depend upon a clean driving record and certainly depends upon remaining licensed to drive, any driver accused of an offence that might result in a penalty should obtain legal advice.
Heavy vehicle penalties
As adopted in NSW, the Heavy Vehicle National Law contains three kinds of penalties.
An infringeable offence results in the issuance of an infringement notice. The infringement notice gives a driver the option of paying the financial penalty specified in the notice or asking to have the matter heard by a court. Infringement offences are not penalised by imprisonment. Of the 330 offences in the Heavy Vehicle National Law, 144 are infringeable.
Court imposed penalties
Some offences, generally the more serious ones, are not infringeable and must be dealt with by a court. Of the 330 offences in the Heavy Vehicle National Law, 186 are not infringeable.
Serious traffic offences which are not part of the National Law, such as drink driving, also involve court imposed penalties. It is always wise to seek legal advice when you must appear in court since the penalties that might be imposed can be severe.
Demerit points are assessed against a driver’s licence. Of the 330 offences in the National Law, 8 impose demerit points. Many offences that are not part of the National Law, such as drink driving, also require the assessment of demerit points.
Chain of responsibility
As adopted in NSW, the Heavy Vehicle National Law imposes specific duties upon various parties in the road transport supply chain to assure that heavy vehicles and their drivers comply with safety regulations. In addition to the driver, responsibilities are imposed upon:
- the driver’s employer or contractor;
- the vehicle’s scheduler;
- the load manager for goods in the vehicle;
- the consignor of goods being delivered in the vehicle; and
- in some cases, the consignee of goods being delivered in the vehicle.
Those duties may be violated by:
- disobeying a regulation;
- giving the driver instructions that would cause the driver to disobey a regulation;
- setting a schedule that can only be met by disobeying a regulation;
- requiring delivery of a load that can only be accomplished by disobeying a regulation; and
- entering into contracts that can only be met by disobeying a regulation.
Different people in the chain of responsibility have different obligations. They also have different defences. Generally, someone who was in no position to prevent a violation, or who took all reasonable steps that person could have taken to prevent it, has a defence. There are, however, exceptions to that general rule. If you are charged with a violation because you were in the supply chain, you should obtain legal advice.
Drivers of heavy vehicles must not exceed any posted speed limit. Some roads, sections of roads, or bridges may have signs posted that apply specifically to heavy trucks. Sharp curves, steep descents, and winding roads are particularly likely to have those signs. When those signs appear, drivers must obey them rather than obeying the speed limit that applies to drivers of passenger vehicles.
In NSW, the maximum speed at which a heavy vehicle may travel is 100 km/h. If a lower speed limit is posted, drivers must obey the posted limit. If a posted limit exceeds 100 km/h, heavy vehicle drivers must not drive faster than 100 km/h.
To assure that heavy vehicles can be readily identified when the driver is speeding, NSW has increased the penalties for operating with a damaged or obscured number plate.
Fines and demerit points depend upon the amount by which the driver exceeded the speed limit. Fines that apply to drivers of heavy vehicles are generally more substantial than those that apply to other drivers. For example, the fine a passenger car driver would typically pay for exceeding the speed limit by 10 km/h is $112. The fine a heavy vehicle driver would typically pay for the same violation is $335.
Chain of responsibility
The law deems a driver’s employer or contractor to be guilty of a speeding offence for which the driver is guilty.
Certain heavy vehicles that operate in NSW must be equipped with a device that limits their speed to 100 km/h. Those vehicles include:
- Trucks having a GVM exceeding 15 tonnes.
- Busses used to provide a public passenger service if their GVM exceeds 14.5 tonnes.
- A heavy vehicle manufactured on or after 1 January 1991 that has a GVM exceeding 12 tonnes.
- A bus manufactured on or after 1 January 1991 that is used to provide a public passenger service and has a GVM exceeding 5 tonnes.
It is an offence to tamper with a speed limiter or to drive a vehicle in NSW that has no functioning speed limiter if one is required by the law of NSW, regardless of where the vehicle is registered. The owner of the truck and the driver’s employer can also be held responsible.
A violation of the speed limiter law can be established by proving that the vehicle was driven in excess of 115 km/h. The vehicle’s registration can be suspended if the vehicle is driven faster than 105 km/h, although the Roads and Maritime Authority must first issue a modification notice that directs the heavy vehicle owner to equip the vehicle with a functioning speed limiter.
Drink driving offences are described on another page on this website. Those offences apply to all drivers, including drivers of heavy vehicles.
Heavy vehicle drivers are subject to drink driving regulations that do not apply to drivers of passenger vehicles. A heavy vehicle driver can be charged with a Prescribed Alcohol Content (PAC) offence if the driver has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.02% or higher. Most other drivers (other than learners and unlicenced drivers) can legally drive with a blood alcohol concentration of less than 0.05%.
Our drink driving page lists the “special range” penalties that can be imposed upon heavy vehicle drivers who violate the law by driving with a 0.02% or higher blood alcohol concentration.
Drivers of heavy vehicles must comply with regulations that govern the maximum number of hours that can be spent driving and the minimum number of hours that must be spent resting. A violation of those regulations subjects the driver, as well as others in the chain of responsibility, to financial penalties. The penalties depend upon the severity of the offence. Serious offences carry demerit points as well as a fine.
Drivers of fatigue-related heavy vehicles commit an offence by driving a heavy vehicle while impaired by fatigue. A driver is impaired when, due to fatigue, the driver cannot drive safely.
A fatigue-related heavy vehicle includes:
- A vehicle (including trailers) with a GVM of more than 12 tonnes.
- A bus that is designed to carry more than 12 occupants if it has a GVM or ATM of more than 4.5 tonnes.
- Individuals in the chain of responsibility can be charged with an offence if they fail to take steps to prevent a driver from driving a fatigue-related heavy vehicle while fatigued.
Dimension, mass and loading violations
As adopted in NSW, the Heavy Vehicle National Law imposes limits on the size of heavy vehicles, including mass and dimensions, and on the size of the load a heavy vehicle can carry. Regulations in NSW address tare mass (or weight of the empty vehicle), mass under load, mass on tyres and axles, and mass limits related to axle spacing. Those regulations can be confusing but drivers, heavy vehicle owners, loaders, and others in the transportation supply chain are expected to understand them.
Breaches of mass limits are penalized according to the severity of the breach. Breaches are categorized as creating a:
- severe risk if the mass exceeds 120% of the maximum limit
- substantial risk if the mass exceeds 105% of the maximum limit
- minor risk if the mass is less than 105% of the maximum limit
A person charged with an overload offence can defend against the charge based on that person’s lack of knowledge that the vehicle was overloaded. The person must establish, however, that all reasonable steps were taken to prevent the overload, or that there were no steps the person was in a position to take.
Regulations also govern permitted dimensions of heavy vehicles. Penalties are assessed according to the measured length by which the vehicle exceeds the permitted maximum. Dangerous projections that are not accompanied by proper warnings also violate the law, even if they do not exceed the vehicle’s permitted length.
Loads must be secured or restrained in accordance with the Load Restraint Guide prepared by the National Transport Commission. A violation of those standards can be penalized under NSW law.
The complexity of load, dimension, and restraint laws make compliance difficult. If you are charged with a violation of one of those laws, you should obtain legal advice before you decide how to proceed.