The Daily Telegraph - Tuesday 1 March 2005

Fine only for boss on death of driver


A TRUCKING boss found guilty of contributing to the burning death of one of his drivers has escaped with just a $42,000 fine, enraging road safety groups.

Jim Hitchcock was last year found guilty by the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) of failing to provide safe working conditions for Darri Haynes, who was incinerated when his rig hit another truck near Grafton in 1999.

Mr Haynes had driven more than 5400km in the week before the accident and traces of amphetamine were found in his ashen remains.

IRC vice-president Michael Walton yesterday said: ''Mr Hitchcock has committed two offences of great seriousness.'' He said Hitchcock's company had failed to eliminate, or even reduce, the risk of such an accident.

But despite having a maximum penalty of $110,000 open to him, Commissioner Walton fined Hitchcock just $42,000.

While Hitchcock, who did not attend the commission, will have to pay the fine personally, he has already avoided a $550,000 fine against his company by putting the firm into liquidation.
The leniency of the punishment appalled the Transport Workers Union (TWU), which has for years been pushing for tougher safety conditions for truck drivers.

The union has also called for a ``chain of responsibility'' which would reach high-profile trucking company clients -- such as Coles Myer and Woolworths.

TWU secretary Tony Sheldon said the fine would do nothing to deter other firms from continuing unsafe practices and called for jail terms to be considered in such cases.

''This is a pitiful fine -- even the maximum penalty is less than the community deserves,'' Mr Sheldon said.

''We think it's appropriate in all these matters that custodial sentences be considered, and the clients of these companies that benefit from these practices should become accountable.'' The Pedestrian Council of Australia described the penalty as disgraceful.

Council president Harold Scruby said that Hitchcock had been ''thrashed with a feather''.

''Until the people who are responsible for pushing these deadly deadlines are made part of the crime these sorts of crashes will continue,'' Mr Scruby said.

Yesterday's decision came as eight drivers at Western Sydney company Marchetti and Sons said they had been stood down for refusing to drive unsafe vehicles.

They said the trucks had defective brakes, no speed-limiters and faulty trailers. The owner could not be reached for comment.

Tougher safety measures that would hold truck owners responsible for any tampering with speed-limiting devices on the vehicles and make trucking company clients more accountable were introduced in State Parliament late last year.

Roads Minister Michael Costa said these and other issues would be discussed at the Government's upcoming summit on heavy vehicles.

''There are a range of issues around heavy vehicles on our roads that concern industry, drivers and other road users,'' he told The Daily Telegraph.

Legislation allowing for roadside drug testing is expected to be introduced sometime this year.

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