Changes to logbooks on the cards, says Ministry of Transport

In an increasingly digitised world, hand-written logbooks continue to be a more efficient method of monitoring drivers’ behaviours behind the wheel, despite the NZTA approving five electronic logbook versions for commercial use. NZ Trucking Association.

NEW ZEALAND’S approach to fatigue management, particularly for commercial and heavy vehicle drivers, may soon go under the microscope, according to the Ministry of Transport (MoT). The role of logbooks, and whether they remain appropriate, may also be considered alongside telematics – technology used to manage a vehicle or group of vehicles and other assets, most often in trucking.

This follows the eight charges in total John Baptiste Barber faced in Taupo – District Court last month over a Desert Road crash that left two children dead. He pleaded not guilty to all charges, which included two of operating a vehicle carelessly causing death and two of operating a vehicle carelessly causing injury. The remaining charges relate to falsified logbooks, exceeding work hours and failure to have 10 hours of continuous rest. He was remanded until a case review in September.

MoT’s Mobility and Safety Manager, Brent Johnston, says road safety is a priority, and it is clear that the level of trauma occurring on our roads has worsened over the last five years. “This level of harm is neither inevitable nor acceptable and we are committed to reversing this trend. We are currently leading the development of a comprehensive new road safety strategy to address the unacceptably high number of people who are being killed and injured on our roads. The new strategy, and action plan to be made under it, will outline the steps New Zealand will take to reduce deaths and serious injuries on our roads over the coming decade. As part of the development of the new strategy, we are considering whether New Zealand should adopt Vision Zero. This ambitious approach has been used successfully in countries such as Sweden and Norway, which have achieved significantly lower fatality rates than New Zealand. We are working collaboratively with a range of stakeholders, including representatives from industry, unions, and regulators to support the development of the new strategy.”

Despite the Desert Road fatality, president of the New Zealand Trucking Association, David Boyce, believes the industry doesn’t have a problem, just a few bad apples. He says while such cases are rare and incredibly traumatic for all involved, the heavy vehicle industry isn’t in need of an overhaul to the way it monitors its drivers.

However, he says operators who break the law, who only make up a small minority of the industry, certainly need to be held to account; as do the employers willing to pressure employees into such acts. “I don’t have a problem with electronic logbooks, I think they’re a good idea. But at some point, legislators will probably have to get the regulators to make us use them, and that’s certainly what’s happened in the United States from 1 September. If we’re talking about logbooks’ abilities to prevent the death toll on our roads, they certainly aren’t doing any harm but there are more significant things that we can do to help achieve that.”

To date, the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) has approved five electronic logbooks for use on our roads, with a further application under assessment presently. While it is a relatively new approach to monitoring drivers’ hours, the NZTA has yet to decline any eLogbook system under formal application on the basis of specifications.

A spokesperson says where an issue arises from an application, whether this is an IT system and/or business support setup issue, the NZTA aims to work with applicants to meet relevant compliance levels. “It is at the discretion of drivers or operators to decide which logbook system is best for them. Paper logbooks still have benefits in that they are readily transportable for drivers who may be driving a number of vehicles subject to work time or need to record work outside of driving. They are also relatively inexpensive, and many operators still prefer to use paperbased systems.” NZTA doesn’t record what and how many commercial operators use the digitised versions, and the spokesperson says that while use of those systems is increasing, “it is still significantly less than that of paper logbook use”.

Data from a 2013 Official Information Act request to the New Zealand Police details the number of traffic infringements throughout the country for the year, including logbook violations. Of the 1,615,741 total traffic offences, only 2,158 are logbook transgressions – but the data set doesn’t distinguish between heavy vehicle operators and taxis, for example.

These logbook issues comprise numerous categories including a driver failing to retain a logbook for the required period and making a false statement, to using a vehicle when a logbook wasn’t maintained, allowing an omission to occur and producing a logbook containing 11 or more omissions. The road toll for that year was the lowest in 60 years, according to MoT data, with 254 recorded for the 12 months. That compares to 308 the previous year and 284 in 2011.

In 2013, one death was recorded under offence code A612, titled Aggravated Careless (under Influence) Causing Death/injury – Transport Service. MoT information from 2017 revealed that 75 people died and 850 were injured in road crashes involving trucks; 23% of all deaths and 7% of all reported injuries on our roads. The report stated that due to a truck’s mass, they tend to be over-represented in serious crashes, with fatal crashes involving the heavy vehicle making up around 20% of the total road toll (five-year average). Just over 6% of the total distance travelled on New Zealand roads is travelled by trucks.

It went on to disclose that 87% of people who died in crashes involving trucks were not truck occupants, but the other road users involved. “This reflects the fact that, in a collision between a heavy vehicle and a light vehicle or vulnerable road user, there is a much higher probability of death or serious injury than in a collision involving only light vehicles,” the report states. “This is not to say that the fault lies primarily with the heavy vehicles or their drivers. As shown in a later section, truck drivers have the primary responsibility for only about a third (32%) of the fatal crashes in which they are involved.”

The Trucking Association’s David Boyce agrees; education of other non-heavy vehicle users would have a significant impact on the road toll. “One of our members’ greatest concerns, no matter what community or region they come from, is that of other drivers and their understanding of the road rules. As an example, the Police were doing a study in Canterbury recently, asking about the most dangerous piece of road, and the general feedback from members was the passing lanes south of Ashburton. As you’re driving down the passing lanes, it seems to be this absolute race to get to the end of it, and people are doing crazy things – there are so many accidents. If we’re able to better educate all other road users and continue the work our industry is doing through the Safety MAN Road Safety Truck in combating truck-related crashes and rollovers, while encouraging companies and drivers to manage driver’s health, that will have a major influence over our road tolls.”