LAST week in the Korumburra Magistrates’ Court, a 38 year old South Gippsland truck driver was fined $13,000 and put off the road for two years after a fearful crash on the Princes Highway in October last year.
The court heard that the driver went to sleep behind the wheel of his unladen B Double milk tanker, after completing a delivery from Coburg to Bega on Monday, October 9, 2017.
The truck jack-knifed and careered across both lanes of the highway near Club Terrace, in driving rain at around 1.15pm, narrowly missing a Mercedes driver coming the other way and crashing into roadside trees where over $300,000 worth of damage was done to the Kenworth prime mover and trailers, which were ultimately written off.
The driver sustained head injuries and other trauma from which he has not yet fully recovered, spending 12 weeks in hospital while undergoing brain surgery and other treatment.
Although he has since claimed to have had a full night’s sleep before unloading and leaving Bega, the court heard that the driver only had short periods of rest, of between three hours and 45 minutes, in the week leading up to the incident, despite completing an exhaustive round of contract milk deliveries in the state’s north and east.
It’s a hazardous industry, even when drivers follow the rules.
We saw that last week when a 50 year old Meeniyan truck driver tragically lost his life on the notorious Black Spur bends at Koonwarra.
There’s no suggestion that driver was at fault.
The matter is still in the hands of the coroner but interim reports by police apportion most of the blame to the archaic road design, not the driver.
But with some of these drivers in charge of huge B Double rigs, potentially hauling up to 41,000 litres of milk at an overall weight of 68 tonnes, through city streets as well as on country roads, it’s a big responsibility.
And even with the introduction of GPS monitoring, electronic work diaries and harsh penalties for log book and rest breaches; there’s still the potential for the system to be rorted.
The man who appeared in Korumburra Court last week admitted he’d done the wrong thing but claimed financial and family pressures plus the need to meet delivery targets was ever present.
“I left Leongatha empty and drove to Coburg and loaded up. I stopped at Warragul to see my girlfriend who was in hospital, had something to eat and a rest break. I went to Bega but couldn’t unload so I slept 12 to 14 hours in the bunk in the truck till the morning.
“Unloaded, I left to come back, stopped for half an hour at Cann River for a break and the accident happened after I left there.”
However, while the driver followed the rules on that trip, it was the previous trip from Leongatha to Cobram, Rochester and back again that apparently caused the trouble.
As the court was told last week, the accused driver tried to reject the contract run to Rochester and back but ultimately agreed.
“I told them I’d already used most of my book and couldn’t go any further.
“The company maps out a schedule that they think the drivers can manage with their time but it can be impacted by lots of things, delays on the Monash, breakdowns, incidents that force you to miss your loading or unloading times, extra deliveries; lots of things.
“The milk companies are all set up to receive the milk, plus there’s the feeling that if you consistently miss the times, your job could be at stake.
“Plus, there’s other transport companies that will take the job if you don’t and once they’re in, they can undercut the price and you mightn’t get it back. I drove up there at night so the supervisor might not have known where I was and that I hadn’t had my necessary rest breaks”.
“I knew I was doing the wrong thing but I just wanted to get it over and done with. I thought I’d be right to make it.”
There’s also the lure of being paid by the kilometre. The accused man said a pressing family issue at home added to his decision to drive.
Put off the road for two years and still recovering from his injuries, he admitted to feeling depressed and worse in recent times while he looks for alternative work and the opportunity to get his life back on track.
“A lot has been said today about this tragic incident but the reality is it could have resulted in a culpable driving offence and you could have been in jail for a long period of time.
“The person (woman driving the Mercedes who took evasive action) will never forget the close shave. You broke the law on purpose,” said Magistrate Leonard Brear.
Earlier Mr Brear said it was his responsibility to send a message “that you can’t do what you like and put others at risk with no consequences… what is the union doing?” he asked.
“When it comes to public safety the responsibility is with the drivers and those who make money from them.”
But in handing down his sentence, he also had regard for the impact of the incident on the driver.
“I only hope this will be a lesson to you that you won’t forget and stand as a warning to others.”