Bruce Honeywill talks EWDs.
Bruce Honeywill talks EWDs. Contributed

Why grass root truckies are against EWDs

THE National Heavy Vehicle Regulator in April flagged the green light for the introduction of voluntary Electronic Work Diaries.

The announcement was immediately slammed in the same month by the Australian Trucking Association and the TWU.

This follows widespread negative reaction from drivers, owner-drivers and small fleet owners that has been virulent on social media for years.

Many executives of the bureaucracies have expressed surprise at the negative reaction from the grassroots of the road transport industry against the introduction of a technical development some thought might make the job of being a truck driver a little easier.

This should come as no surprise.

For decades the introduction of every so-called "step into the future” pushed onto the industry has meant the freedom and rights of drivers and owner drivers have been knocked back a notch.

"Innovation” introduced to the highway has meant increased regulation and monitoring, putting more weapons into the hands of compliance and enforcement agencies.

For decades I have been writing about steps forward in work-time recording, about flexibility in fatigue management and in reducing the adversarial nature of the compliance and enforcement systems in this nation.

Promises were published across different road transport publications through the years, particularly when the National Heavy Vehicle regulator was being established.

There was a promise from the nascent regulator for a change of culture in compliance an enforcement.

Training for transport inspectors and police officers working with truck drivers and owner drivers was promised in an attempt to reduce the confrontational approach in enforcement and interpretation by some agencies.

Those published promises have been hollow, a total breach of faith with the road transport industry.

We have seen the NHVR introduced and yet the legislation, regulations and in particular the interpretation of the regulations by officials have never been tougher, more rigid and enforced often with life crushing, mortgage busting sanctions.

OK guys, the ones sitting in air-conditioned offices with shiny bums, don't be surprised at the reaction from grassroots industry.

The men and women of the road, professionals through and through, are sick and tired of broken promises.

For sure there is some common sense about the introduction of a system based on EWDs.

Let's face it, the technology tells the truth.

But what good is the truth in one section of a system that is flawed.

An example of an EWD being used now.
An example of an EWD being used now.

The EWDs will be plugged into a system of regulated fatigue management that means if a truck driver is held up through roadworks, breakdowns, whatever and is running an hour late before arriving at an unloading destination or home depot, the driver could be out of time.

He or she must take the mandated seven-hour rest.

An hour from home?

And that will be recorded by the EWD in a system that can feed data into a system lacking common sense and empathy.

This is a system as stiff as rigor mortis.

The common sense answer is that the driver should be able to assess his situation.

If tired grab an hour, even two, to stretch out and then head home.

With EWDs it appears that this type of prosecution can be retrospective. Three months down the line you can have a basketful of infringements for what really are commonsense minor breaches, but the fines will be enough to make you a basket case.

And if you have to ask what is the difference between electronic recorders and a paper-based system, you better go back to school.

Technologically based driving recorders have been mooted for decades. Tachographs were mandated throughout Europe in the 50s.

There were several attempts to get tachographs onto Australian roads in the 70s and 80s and some fleets ran tachographs for their own management purposes.

Tachographs mechanically recorded engine and truck particulars against time on a round disk.

Tachographs were never mandated in Australia where logbooks and their innate, if unofficial, flexibility were the go in eastern states.

Still had to be filled out by drivers, still had reasonably severe fines for driving out of hours or not having a logbook filled out.

By the early 2000s many fleets already had electronic monitoring systems collecting data on time, engine use and road speed. This data was often sent via satellite to the operations manager in a fleet's headquarters.

The drive for an introduction of EWDs has been building over recent years.

The NHVR called on industry for input on December 18 last year.

The response was modest with submissions from eight industry representatives, six transport operators, five technology providers, four government entities and one heavy vehicle driver.

Following the public submissions, the NHVR is accepting candidate EWD systems for approval as of last month.

Geoff Casey, NHVR's productivity and safety executive director, said "there are more than 200,000 written work diaries purchased every year, including many by drivers who are already using electronic systems to assist in managing their work and rest hours.”

Casey says he is satisfied that the issues raised during the consultation period have or will be addressed and the development of the EWDs is a voluntary option.

The Australian Trucking Association hit back hard at the regulator's proposals, saying the association does not support the rollout of voluntary electronic work diaries as proposed by the NHVR.

The ATA's safety and skills adviser Melissa Weller says, "The ATA believes the primary aim of the EWDs must be to increase industry safety through better fatigue management by aiding drivers and achieving compliance, not to increase enforcement opportunities.”

The association does not accept or support the EWD policy framework and standards because the focus is more on enforcement than in achieving safety outcomes.

The ATA says the NHVR rollout should not proceed until the standards are amended so that a EWDs do not provide a 28-day list of minor breaches to enforcement officers.

The Transport Workers Union described the introduction of the EWDs as "diary danger”.

The union says it does not think they will solve any problems when the problem is really about the way work is done in the industry.

The union's position is that the EWDs will become the main focus of enforcement, putting extra pressure on drivers and is doomed to fail.

Once the EWD system is in place, it is a simple step, as proposed by RMS a few years ago, to have all data uploaded to compliance agencies.

In an age of artificial intelligence and "big data” this will allow for automated monitoring of all trucks using the system, even to the stage of issuing automated infringements untouched by human hands.

Big brother is getting bigger.

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