Farmers push for simplified national heavy vehicle regulations

Published: January 2020 I Edited by: Claire Stewart

Rules for oversized loads need to be uniform from state to state, says Riverina farmer and NSW Farmers Wagga Wagga branch chair Alan Brown.

Truck full of bales of hay headed to South Australia. Source: Getty Images/iStockphoto. 
WIDE loads on heavy vehicles is a subject I’m happy to talk about all the time. I have a friend I met through the Wagga Wagga branch of NSW Farmers, where we’re both members, who had a terrible experience with the regulations. What happened to him shouldn’t happen to anyone else. 

He’s a young guy under 40 and he agreed to run a load for a mate from near Wagga to Yass on a truck and dog [trailer]. He was taking low-grade hay up and wasn’t doing it for much, maybe $200. He had a wide load but he had all the signs and flags on the load. He got stopped at a weighbridge en route and they measured the dimensions and found he was 20mm over the limit. [The Over Width Permit limit of 2.7m.]

He was told to leave the truck where it was as it was illegal to drive it further. The load had obviously settled as he’d travelled and when you’re talking about hay, 20mm is a crazy number to be picking someone up over.  

Luckily he had a friend who lived not too far away and he came up and used his loader to push the hay back into place while the truck was at the weighbridge. They measured again and it was fine, so they said he could continue on. But a few weeks later he was sent a letter saying he had been found to be 200mm over the limit, and he was facing a potential $20,000 fine. 

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It turns out that if you’re found to be over the approved dimension at all, the measure reverts from the approved width of a wide load, to the standard load width [2.5m]. Under that rule, instead of being 20mm over, they considered him to be 220mm over [which was a severe offence]. I mean, of course it was a bureaucratic bungle but obviously he was pretty upset. 

He’s got a young family and he’s only a young guy and hadn’t faced anything like this before. He engaged a solicitor to challenge it in court. The court took one look at it and threw it out and only asked that he pay the court cost which was about $150. But because he’d brought a lawyer in to help, they billed him for $4,700. The whole thing ended up costing him close to $5,000 when it had been for a $200 fee. And all over 20mm on a load of hay, that he had rectified and was told was okay. 

The other thing we found out was that had he been driving a semi-trailer and not a truck and dog, he would have been okay because the load regulation for semis are different. I suppose it’s a safety thing but it’s difficult to understand the difference between a semi and a truck and dog when you’re talking centimetres in wide loads. All of this got me thinking that we need a simplified national regulation for heavy vehicles.

Riverina farmer and NSW Farmers Wagga Wagga branch chair Alan Brown. Source: supplied. 

Part of the problem is that in NSW the regulation book is 3cm thick, and in Victoria it’s a third of that. I’ve got another friend who has about 20 trucks. He says they’re comfortable with it because they’re dealing with it all day every day, it’s their job to know the details. 

But for farmers, or even people who are driving part-time, it’s too complicated. Why do we have to have different rules in different states? And it’s not like Victoria is light on regulation. Why does the safety requirement change when you cross the border into Wodonga? It’s stupid. 

At the NSW Farmers annual conference in July, I proposed a motion that was subsequently passed, calling for streamlined and simplified regulations for oversized loading, and that it should be a single national law, not state by state. 

I’ve been a farmer all my life, running fine wool Merinos and doing a bit of share-farming. I’m semi-retired now but I also work as a loss adjuster for crop insurance so I understand how bureaucracy and the law works. I know it’s not going to be easy to have this regulation changed, but it’s a start. 

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We saw the Chain of Responsibility [CoR] legislation change last year and I’m in support of that, I agree with the CoR, but there’s also questions on who should be fined for overwide loads. And how do you take into account things like loads settling during transit – there needs to be some leeway. 

When you talk to people about it, there’s a view that the bureaucracy sees heavy vehicles as a bit of a cash cow and an easy target. That comes back to why I want to see the regulation simplified, so everyone knows what they can and can’t do, no matter what state they’re in.  l

*Editor’s note: since the incident Alan describes, regulations have been amended. Under the NSW Class 3 Drought Assistance Dimension Exemption Notice 2018, eligible vehicles carrying hay in drought-affected NSW can be up to 2.83m wide and 4.6m high. Permits are still required through the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator portal for access to some local government roads.

**These are the personal views of Alan Brown. If you would like to be ‘On my Soapbox’ in a future issue of The Farmer, email NSW Farmers:  

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