This question comes from a NSW volunteer who says:

I am a volunteer member of a State Emergency Service. My query relates to the driving of overloaded vehicles. A vehicle I am required to drive has a GVM of 4495 kgs. Without driver or passengers it weighs 4315kgs. Throw in a driver, passengers and gear and the weight of the vehicle will exceed its GVM.

I hold a heavy vehicle driver’s licence so I presume in driving an overweight vehicle I am guilty of some type of offence, and it would not be helpful were I to be involved in a serious collision, becoming an aggravating factor especially if someone were killed or injured.

My question specifically relates to a car licence holder driving said vehicle. Which offences would they be committing?

In New South Wales the Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW) s 4 defines a “heavy vehicle” as a ‘motor vehicle or trailer that has a GVM of more than 4.5 tonnes’ (see also Heavy Vehicle National Law (NSW) s 6).   The GVM is the ‘gross vehicle mass’ and is:

… the maximum loaded mass of the vehicle:

(a) as specified by the vehicle’s manufacturer, or

(b) as specified by the Authority if:

(i) the manufacturer has not specified a maximum loaded mass, or

(ii) the manufacturer cannot be identified, or

(iii) the vehicle has been modified to the extent that the manufacturer’s specification is no longer appropriate.

A “light vehicle” is any vehicle other than a heavy vehicle.

Heavy vehicles are governed by the Heavy Vehicle National Law.  Section 96(1) says:

A person must not drive on a road a heavy vehicle that (together with its load) does not, or whose components do not, comply with the mass requirements applying to the vehicle.

What are the ‘mass requirements’ is more complex than just the GVM – see Heavy Vehicle (Mass, Dimension and Loading) National Regulation (NSW) Sch 1.  I won’t try to understand the technical issues so let me, for the sake of the argument, assume that GVM is the relevant mass requirement.

The critical issue is that s 96(1) doesn’t make it an offence because the person holds a particular licence, anyone who drives a heavy vehicle that does not comply with the mass requirements commits an offence.

According to my correspondent, however, the vehicle is required to drive has a GVM of 4495kgs or 4.495 tonnes.  That’s close to, but not more than, 4.5 tonnes so the vehicle is a ‘light vehicle’.

The Road Transport (General) Regulation 2013 (NSW) r 50C says:

A person must not drive, or cause to be driven, along a road a light vehicle or light combination that contravenes any of the dimension, mass or load restraint requirements imposed by this Part otherwise than in accordance with a permit issued under clause 50N.

A motor lorry is:

… any motor vehicle (whether or not in combination with any trailer) that is constructed principally for the conveyance of goods or merchandise or for the conveyance of any kind of materials used in any trade, business or industry, or for use in any work other than the conveyance of persons, but does not include a motor bike or a tractor. (Road Transport (General) Regulation 2013 (NSW) r 3).

That would include an SES rescue truck.  Regulation 50F says

A person must not drive a motor lorry on a road if the total mass of the motor lorry exceeds the lorry’s mass limit.

The mass limit is the GVM (r 50H).

So if the vehicle exceeds its GVM the driver commits an offence.  Again it doesn’t matter what licence they hold; that is it does not matter, as my correspondent suggests it might, whether or not the driver holds a heavy vehicle driver’s licence.  Anyone who drives a vehicle that exceeds the ‘mass requirements’ commits an offence.

It should be noted that there can be exemptions given during an emergency (r 50Y).  That has to be a particular exemption given in response to need in a particular emergency.  It will not apply to the day to day operations of the SES or other emergency services

My correspondent’s ‘question specifically relates to a car licence holder driving said vehicle. Which offences would they be committing?’  The answer is that they would be committing an offence contrary to the Road Transport (General) Regulation 2013 (NSW) r 50C which carries a maximum of penalty of 30 penalty units or $3300.

My correspondent also noted that driving an overweight vehicle ‘would not be helpful were I to be involved in a serious collision, becoming an aggravating factor especially if someone were killed or injured’.  That is indeed true – see Suspended jail sentence for firefighter involved in a fatal accident (October 24, 2009) and the comments that were made in response to that post.

Finally, we most readers would now be aware, for the purposes of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) the term worker includes a ‘volunteer’ (s 7).  A Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (which would include the SES) ‘must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of’ its workers (s 19).  A worker (including a volunteer, s 34) must also ‘take reasonable care for his or her own health and safety’ and the safety of others (s 28).   If the SES management knowingly permit or encourage or require a member to drive an overweight vehicle, and if it can be shown that this creates a danger to the workers or others, then that may be an offence under the WHS Act.  Equally a member who drives a vehicle knowing that it is overweight, again if it can be shown that this creates a danger, may also be guilty of an offence under the WHS Act.