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Landmark case – A warning to transport bosses: chain of responsibility laws will be enforced 

Last week’s sentencing of a transport boss under Heavy Vehicle National Law is being described as ground-breaking” by transport experts who warn it sends a strong message to executives across the country.

On 23 January 2024, the National Operations Manager of a transport company was sentenced to three years’ jail time, $100,000+ in penalties and costs, and a 12-month prohibition from acting in similar transport roles. It was in relation to a 2020 crash on Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway which saw four police officers killed by a heavy vehicle being driven by an impaired driver.

It is the first time in Australia an employee of a company has been found guilty and sentenced of a category one offence, the most serious under Heavy Vehicle National Law.

Supply Chain Technical Manager at transport and logistics specialist NTI, Aaron Louws, said whilst transport and logistics is highly regulated with a high standard held across the industry, this case is a reminder to individuals that the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator may bring charges against them personally, as opposed to only prosecuting their employer.

“The sentence sends a clear message to parties within the supply chain – the law will be enforced,” Mr Louws said.

“What also makes this case ground-breaking is that the defendant was convicted as an ‘operator’ of a heavy vehicle for their failure to fulfil their primary duty”.

An ‘operator’ is a person who is ‘responsible for controlling or directing the use of a heavy vehicle’ – but the Court held that this could also include the immediate manager or supervisor of drivers, and senior management who have responsibilities for the use and control of a heavy vehicle.

Throughout the legal proceedings, it was noted the company’s policies and systems were not enforced or adequately implemented or adapted. The transport company and two of its executives have also been convicted over the incident.

“There were multiple examples of non-compliance with many aspects of the policies in the areas of recruitment, screening, the training of new workers, drug testing, recording work/rest time and adhering to work/rest requirements. The actual implementation and enforcement of company processes never happened, and if they had, it’s possible this incident may not have occurred,” Mr Louws said.

“We can all learn from this situation. It’s important to prove our standards are in place, and as an industry we work together to ensure that our actions/inactions do everything so far as is reasonably practicable, to ensure this couldn’t happen again.”

NTI is home to CoRSafe – an end-to-end online management system supporting the Australian supply chain industry to better manage their compliance, as part of the commitment to creating a safer and more sustainable future. Visit

The case:

On 23 January 2024, a landmark decision around the application of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) was made relating to the sentencing of the National Operations Manager of a Transport Company (the defendant) who on the 4th of December 2023 was found guilty of a category 1 offence (the most serious under HVNL). This followed a truly tragic incident on the Eastern Freeway in Melbourne on the 22nd of April 2020.

In November 2023, the Transport Company was also convicted and fined $2,310,000 following a guilty plea, and two of the company’s executives were convicted and fined $70,000 + $60,000 in legal fees for one, and $22,500 and subject to a Supervisory Intervention Order for the other. The driver was sentenced to 21 years’ jail time (reduced to 18.5 years after appeal). The immediate supervisor of the driver is currently awaiting sentencing.

Supplied – Adoni Media