Heavy Vehicle National Law – Investigations & Prosecutions

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) was established in 2013 as the statutory authority to administer the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL). The HVNL applies in all Australian states and territories except the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

The NHVR is Australia’s independent regulator for all vehicles over 4.5 tonnes mass.

HVNL compliance and on-road enforcement

Under the HVNL, on-road compliance and enforcement covers a broad range of activities, including:

  • inspecting prescribed work, rest, driver fatigue and work diary requirements;
  • enforcing standards heavy vehicles must meet when using roads;
  • checking maximum mass and dimensions of heavy vehicles;
  • checking loading and restraining of loads on heavy vehicles.

Chain of Responsibility

The Chain of Responsibility (CoR) is the feature of the HVNL that extends heavy vehicle road safety to persons other than drivers. CoR captures all parties that work with heavy vehicles and those who are accountable for the safety of the heavy vehicle, its driver and its load. 

Driving a heavy vehicle is not a CoR function. Rather, drivers have other duties and obligations under the NHVL.

It is important to note that being a party to the CoR is based on the function performed, not because of a title or job description or the wording of a contract. Greater than 50% of CoR functions apply to individuals and businesses that do not own or operate a heavy vehicle.

Parties in a CoR who engage in any of the following functions are accountable for heavy vehicle safety:

  1. Employs a heavy vehicle driver (employer);
  2. Engages someone to drive a heavy vehicle under a contract for services (prime contractor);
  3. Directs the control and use of a heavy vehicle (operator);
  4. Schedules the transport of goods and passengers in a heavy vehicle or schedules a driver’s work and rest hours (scheduler);
  5. Consigns goods for transport by a heavy vehicle (consignor);
  6. Receives goods delivered by a heavy vehicle (consignee);
  7. Packs or assembles goods for transport in a heavy vehicle (packer);
  8. Manages premises where five or more heavy vehicles are loaded or unloaded each day (loading manager);
  9. Loads a heavy vehicle (loader);
  10. Unloads a heavy vehicle (unloader)

In short, if a business sends or receives goods via a heavy vehicle, it is a party in the CoR.

Duties under the Heavy Vehicle National Law

Primary duty

Each party in the CoR has a primary duty to ensure the safety of transport activities so far as is reasonably practicable. This is an obligation to eliminate public risks, or to the extent that is not reasonably practicable to eliminate them, to minimise public risks.

Due diligence

An executive of a business that is a party in the CoR has a distinct duty to exercise due diligence to ensure the business complies with its primary duty to ensure the safety of its transport activities so far as is reasonably practicable.

Penalties for contraventions of the Heavy Vehicle National Law

Courts have wide discretion in relation to sanctions that can be imposed for contraventions of the HVNL. Outcomes include:

  • mandatory education through a Supervisory Intervention Order;
  • cancelling or suspending registration;
  • prohibition orders’
  • compensation orders; and

A breach of the primary duty is the most serious breach of the HVNL. The most serious cases attract significant fines or imprisonment.

The current maximum penalty for failing to comply with the primary duty for a Category 1 offence (most serious offence) is:

  • for an individual - more than $377,000 or 5 years* imprisonment or both; and
  • for a corporation – more than $3,500,000*.

* fine amounts current as at April 2024

National Heavy Vehicle Regulator in Queensland

From 20 April 2024, responsibility for delivering heavy vehicle regulatory services, including on-road compliance and enforcement in Queensland will transition to the NHVR from the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR).

This means that NHVR’s Safety and Compliance Officers (SCOs) will now be present on roadsides across Queensland to perform heavy vehicle on-road compliance and enforcement activities under the NHVL.

Queensland is the sixth Australian jurisdiction - after South Australia, Tasmania, the ACT, Victoria, and New South Wales - where the NHVR will be directly delivering heavy vehicle regulatory services.

TMR will continue to be responsible for:

  • accreditation of vehicle inspection stations and approval of vehicle examiners;
  • heavy vehicle registration;
  • driver licensing;
  • booking heavy vehicle inspections;
  • dangerous goods regulation;
  • road rules;
  • drink and drug driving.

Legal advice and representation regarding Heavy Vehicle National Law prosecutions

Offences under the NHVL are prosecuted in the criminal jurisdiction. A prosecution could have major impacts on a company and its executives. Therefore, it is crucial to obtain advice and representation from experienced criminal defence lawyers.

We have extensive experience advising and representing individual and corporate entities charged with duty-based offences. We appreciate the importance of achieving timely outcomes with minimal impact on operations.

We have a strong technical knowledge of the HVNL, and an intimate understanding of criminal procedure, enabling us to provide clear and practical advice and robust representation in any prosecutions under the HVNL.

Contact Gilshenan & Luton

Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) Lawyers Brisbane