Reasonable steps defence

What are reasonable steps?

Reasonable steps are the actions people can take to ensure that heavy vehicle drivers do not drive in contravention of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL).

A person in the supply chain can claim a ‘reasonable steps’ defence if they can show they did not know or could not reasonably have been expected to know that a breach had occurred.

In making a ‘reasonable steps’ claim a person also has to prove:

  • they took all reasonable steps to prevent the breach, or
  • there were no reasonable steps they could have taken to prevent the breach.

For the defence to be successful, ALL reasonable steps must have been taken – not just some.

An operator of a vehicle used in the commission of an offence against the HVNL may also raise a defence that at the time of the offence the vehicle was being used by:

  • an employee who was acting outside the scope of his or her employment
  • an agent (in any capacity) who acted outside the scope of the agency
  • another person who was not entitled to use the vehicle.

How can I show I have taken reasonable steps?

There are no restrictions on the ways in which a person can demonstrate that they took reasonable steps; reasonable steps will vary depending on circumstances.

Business practices should include methods to identify, assess, control, monitor and review situations that put driver safety at risk. These include:

  • Risk identification – What could happen?
  • Risk assessment – What is the likelihood it may happen?
  • Risk control – What can we do about it, or to prevent it?

You should ensure you set up and document a set of business practices and ensure all employees are trained in their use. The practices should be comprehensive yet flexible enough to allow for changes through regular review, in response to accidents/incidents or at times when things just go wrong.

Some examples of reasonable steps include:

  • conducting regular audits of work schedules and work records
  • regularly reviewing business activities, processes, policies and written instructions and identifying how best to manage outcomes and prevent offences
  • implementing processes to be used after unexpected delays, or times when things just go wrong
  • planning for driver rest breaks with some consideration for unexpected traffic delays when creating trip timetables
  • providing accurate weights of containers and ensuring loads will not exceed vehicle mass or dimension limits
  • positioning and securing loads to ensure they remain stable for the entire journey
  • if a breach occurs putting procedures in place to prevent similar breaches or issues from happening again
  • establishing a risk management plan
  • conducting training to develop staff awareness of business policies and procedures and their obligations; such as fatigue management, speed compliance, loading and unloading
  • ensuring staff are not just aware of their obligations, but are actively engaged in implementing practices.

Examples of reasonable steps for parties in the supply chain

Examples of how operators, managers, or schedulers may demonstrate reasonable steps were taken to prevent a breach occurring include:

  • having work practices in place to ensure vehicles and equipment are kept in good condition and all loads are properly restrained
  • implementing systems and procedures to ensure that the mass of each vehicle is assessed and recorded for each trip
  • routinely checking your records of drivers’ activities, including work and rest times, to ensure they are complying with all regulations and instructions
  • ensuring your scheduling system is able to be audited and allows for sufficient rest and sleep
  • fostering commercial arrangements with other responsible persons which include operating conditions that comply with the law
  • providing employees with easy and unrestricted access to all necessary information, instruction, training and supervision to allow them to comply with relevant laws.

Examples of how consignors or consignees may demonstrate they took all reasonable steps to prevent a breach occurring include:

  • having processes in place to accurately weigh and measure all goods to be transported by road
  • set realistic delivery timelines which make allowances for unexpected delays such as traffic or road works
  • request information from transport operators and/or drivers about what systems they have in place to prevent breaches of road transport laws when transporting your goods.

Loading manager/loader/packer
Examples of how loading managers, loaders or packers may demonstrate they took all reasonable steps to prevent a breach occurring include:

  • using a loading diagram for different types of loads to ensure axle weight limits are not exceeded
  • under-loading for the first trip and verifying the weight at some stage of the journey if the vehicle’s weight cannot be accurately assessed at the time of loading. Subsequent loads can be adjusted accordingly
  • fitting scales to loading equipment and keeping a “running” total of the weight of the load for each trip
  • using a pre-printed form which requires the person in control of packing or loading the goods to verify the accuracy of any records
  • notifying drivers if loading/unloading times will be 30 minutes or more either late or early so they can manage their work/rest times
  • providing rest facilities to allow drivers to take rest while waiting if the loading/unloading schedule has long queues.

Examples of how drivers or owner-drivers may demonstrate they took all reasonable steps to prevent a breach occurring include:

  • ensuring that your conduct does not compromise road safety or involve breaking the law
  • you should know your vehicle’s mass – For example keep weighbridge dockets, use on-board scales to check your weights, and keep any loading documentation that shows the weight of your load, and ensures that your vehicle does not exceed legal dimensions
  • check your load to ensure it is properly restrained – even if you are not the person who loaded the vehicle
  • checking the condition of restraining equipment (chains, ropes, straps etc) for signs of wear.