Heavy vehicle transport drivers and operators traditionally have been the focus of road laws. However, breaches of road laws are often caused by the actions of others. Under chain of responsibility (CoR), complying with transport law is a shared responsibility. All parties in the road transport supply chain are responsible for preventing breaches.

In other words, no longer is the driver always solely to blame for safety breaches that happen on the road.

CoR recognises the effects of the actions, inactions, and demands of off-the-road parties in the transport chain.

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) enforces the CoR laws under the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL). It says anybody – not just the driver – who has control over the transport task can be held responsible for breaches of road laws and may be legally liable.

In fact, CoR is similar to the legal concept of 'duty of care' that underpins Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S) law. This approach has long been used by the courts to impose liability in negligence and damages claims. CoR laws are, in a way, evolving to emulate the OHS law model.

Everyone has a role to play

Although the HVNL has been in place in some form for more than 10 years, there is still a low level of understanding about how it operates.

Knowing what the law says is not enough. Understanding how it applies to your individual business, then developing policies to monitor and proactively support compliance, is just as important.

What ‘compliance’ amounts to will be specific to the individual party in the supply chain. Everyone in the chain has different means and capacity to influence the behaviour and actions of others.

All parties in the supply chain – consignor/dispatcher, packer, loader, scheduler, consignee/receiver, manager, as well as the driver and transport operator – must take all reasonable steps to prevent breaches of CoR laws.

The ‘four pillars’ of CoR are:

  • driver fatigue
  • speed
  • load restraint
  • mass and dimensions
  • (and a ‘fifth pillar’ of maintenance to be introduced in 2018).

How CoR laws apply

Let’s say a load of steel posts shifts during transportation and falls into the path of on-coming traffic on a busy section of road. An unsuspecting motorist travelling in the opposite direction, crashes into the steel and dies at the scene. Who shares the blame for the incident when the driver didn’t load or secure the freight?

Or, who is to blame when the driver of a heavy vehicles falls asleep at the wheel and crashes into other vehicles, severely injuring himself and others? He says he has driven for 20 hours straight because he was told by the consigner of the goods he was transporting that if they weren’t at their delivery point by 8pm that night he wouldn’t be paid.

And what about the driver who speeds dangerously to meet a deadline his company’s scheduler has set? Who is at fault if the driver crashes on a bend because he is travelling too fast for the conditions?

These are some of the scenarios that CoR laws penalise and are used as deterrents to prevent this sort of dangerous behaviour and patterns occurring on our roads – for the benefit if all road-users.

Sanctions range from formal warnings to court-imposed fines and penalties, and even criminal convictions.

Remember, CoR laws apply to all companies and personnel involved in the transport of goods by heavy vehicle. They set out specific legal obligations for anyone in the supply chain from employers, managers and company directors to drivers, loaders and packers.


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