From the CEO: Negotiating the maze of axle mass limit rules is enough to make you see red 

axle mass limit rules, natroad, road freight,

Read time: 3 mins

Axle mass limits isn’t the sexiest issue for people outside the heavy vehicle industry, but it’s vital to keeping supply chains moving efficiently and safely in this country.  

That’s why the inconsistency in requirements between states and territories needs to be exposed.   

Victoria is the latest state to increase axle mass limits for the next generation of low and zero emission trucks.  

In October, Victoria’s Department of Transport granted a three-year permit to Volvo Group Australia to use a semi-trailer combination with a battery electric prime mover. It has a steer axle load of up to 7.5 tonnes and can operate on a network of state-owned roads in Victoria.  

It followed decisions by South Australia and New South Wales to up the ante.  

SA was first out of the blocks when it announced that zero or low emission prime mover operators would be granted an exemption from current mass limits that apply on state roads, but only on a pre-approved network.   

At the time of writing, there was speculation the 12 month trial may be expanded.  

The NSW trial permits zero emission vehicles with up to 8 tonnes on a single steer axle, and up to 18.5 tonnes on the drive axle, where the overall gross vehicle mass (GVM) of the prime mover does not exceed 26 tonnes.  

In May, Queensland announced a change to its Higher Mass Limits Scheme, but it was specific to Performance Based Standards (PBS) combinations.   

Up to 24 tonnes loading is now allowed for trailers fitted with super single tyres that have a minimum 375mm section width, upon approval of an application.   

Amending axle mass limits was a logical step after the Federal Government announced an increase to truck width up to 2.55 metres to bring Australia into line with most of the developed world. These wider trucks must be equipped with blind spot reduction technology, electronic stability control, advanced emergency braking, and lane departure warning systems – and no-one can argue with that.  

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator praised the change, pointing out that it opened the way for manufacturers to bring their latest designs to Australia. The NHVR had long identified width limits as a barrier to the take up of safety technologies.  

If you’re an operator who’s confused by the inconsistencies in various axle mass limits, you’re not alone.  

Imagine being a manufacturer who’s keen to broaden its offering in a market already made complex by its reliance on right-hand drive vehicles? 

Prior to the recent changes, the maximum legal steer axle limits in all jurisdictions of Australia were 6.0 tonnes, with a concession of 0.5 tonne for vehicles fitted with specified technologies. Road trains are allowed to operate with 6.7 tonnes on the steer axle if fitted with tyres wider than 375 mm.  

The HVNL provides for three mass types – General Mass Limits (GML), Concessional Mass Limits (CML) and Higher Mass Limits (HML) – for heavy vehicles operating on the national road network.   

I won’t trouble you with an explanation of each, but if you’re not already aware, you can hit up the NHVR for a fact sheet.   

The bottom line here is that Australia’s heavy vehicle regulations are a plate of spaghetti and have long been a source of frustration for the entire industry.  

Which rule applies to what vehicle and combination types, the maze of differing axle mass and gross mass limits, and the regulations governing who pays for access vary right across the board.  

For example, NSW and SA are not using a user pays model to cover the cost of assessing vehicles to take part in their axle mass limit trials, while you’ll have to cough up if you want to apply in Victoria.  

I know the heavy vehicle industry is highly regulated and there’s good reason for that to be the case.  

But couldn’t our state and territory officials get together online, talk to each other, and reach a compromise on important regulatory issues for the benefit of all concerned?