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Mass and dimension exemption permits have become an important part of the heavy vehicle industry. Many businesses could not operate without them.
However, a little know provision of the uniform National Heavy Vehicles Laws* means that non-compliance with any permit condition can result in huge fines.
For those unfamiliar with the permit scheme, most simply put it allows trucks to be operated in excess of the limits the law usually allows. Basically they can carry bigger and heavier loads.
The permits come with a number of conditions attached. Some of these are administrative in nature, while others are more substantive. All of the conditions need to be complied with while operating under the permit.
The trap comes when someone trying to operate under a permit breaches one of these conditions.
Under the law, if a condition of a permit is breached, then the permit is to be disregarded when deciding if an offence has been committed and how serious it is. Effectively, the situation is treated as if the permit never existed. Any overload or dimension offence is then calculated using the much lower general limits.
This rule applies for a breach of almost any condition. So, even a breach of one of the administrative conditions will mean the person loses the benefit of the permit.
In practice this rule has a few different consequences.
Firstly, a person can be charged with an overload or dimension offence, even if they were under the limits allowed by their permit. A truck may be carrying less than the mass allowed under its permit. However, because of a breach of one of the administrative conditions the permit does not apply. Therefore the general mass limits apply, which the truck is well in excess of.
Another consequence is that what would have been a small breach, can appear to be a much larger one. For example a truck might usually be subject to a general limit of 42 tonnes, but has a permit allowing it to carry 52 tonnes. If the truck were carrying 52.1 tonnes it is in breach of its permit and the permit is to be disregarded. In reality the truck was only 100 kg over what it was allowed to carry. This would be a minor breach and usually receive a small fine by penalty notice. However, because the breach now needs to be calculated from the general mass limit it appears to be 10.1 tonnes over. This is a very serious breach and would usually require the person to attend Court and face a very large fine.
In my experience of working with truck drivers and operators, not many members of the industry are familiar with this rule. It is important that this changes.
Firstly, being aware of the potential consequences of breaching a permit condition helps people realise how important it is to comply with them. It is easy in the spur of the moment to dismiss some of the more administrative conditions as unimportant. However, even a technical breach could lead to you being charge with a serious offence.
Secondly, being aware of the rule helps people to properly present their case if they do find themselves falling foul of it. Courts have great discretion to reduce or waive penalties in the right circumstances. Being able to show that there would have been either no offence or a much smaller one if the permit operated, can be one of the grounds for leniency.
But most importantly, prevention is always better than a cure. If you need to rely on a permit, read all of the conditions carefully. Knowing and following them can save a huge headache down the track.
*Applies in QLD, NSW, ACT, VIC, TAS and SA
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