Over $45k in logbook fines the final blow, as owner operator couple closes business
John and Faye McGrath were left with no choice but to sell their truck and close their business.
With a great contract already lined up, things looked bright when this Cobar-based couple decided to buy their own truck – but then Covid hit and it all went out the window.
Add to that the rising fuel and registration costs and a ridiculous $45,800 for four log book fines – which were contested in court – and John and Faye McGrath were left with no option but to close their small haulage business JFM Haulage.
John, who is only 40 years old, was born and raised in trucking and farming. “He’s been driving trucks all his life. It’s in his blood and he loves it,” Faye said. “His grandfather was still driving at the age of 70 and John is still too young to give it up.”
The couple had high hopes when they got the keys to their 2013 Freightliner.
The couple bought a 2013 Freightliner Coronado three years ago, in early 2020. They secured a good contract with a business in South Australia. “We bought the truck and went to pick it up just as Covid hit, so we lost that contract,” explains Faye.
She said they had high hopes when they decided to take the plunge and go out on their own. “Our goal was to pay off our house a little faster and get ahead of things. That contract would have brought in $15,000 a week. Then Covid hit and it was gone. We didn’t know what to do.”
Working to get a new business off the ground is difficult at the best of times, without throwing in a series of unprecedented restrictions, border closures and everything else that comes with the pandemic.
“We struggled for a while, but were able to buy a flatbed trailer and continue working. With Covid it was really difficult. We then sold that trailer and bought a tautliner,” explains Faye.
The pair could get a new contract from Newcastle to Perth every fortnight. They then rented another trailer and dolly while they worked to build their customer base.
“With the rising fuel costs around March/April last year, it became very difficult. At one point it cost us $10,000 just in fuel to go to Perth and back. Then there are the costs for rego, the truck repayments, insurance etc,” Faye revealed.
“We pushed and struggled, and there were many times John wanted to give up, but I said let’s just keep trying to push forward.”
They initially tried to downsize from a truck to a car.
They made the heartbreaking decision to sell the truck, and it went up for auction in June of last year. “We made just enough to pay it off and then we sold the tautliner. Without the truck, John decided to use a ute and a 6-meter trailer with ramps. He tried it for a while but it wasn’t any easier, even with the reduced fuel costs, the rising costs of everything still made it difficult.”
Things went from bad to worse when John was hit with a whopping four fines of $11,450 each for log book violations, all while traveling through SA.
“He’s made enough mistakes in his log book, but you see on these TV shows where people are pulled over for drink and drug driving, which is extremely dangerous, and they get these small fines. It’s just ridiculous. It’s the little person trying to make a living against the NHVR,” Faye said.
Two of the excessive fines were related to when John was refueling his truck on his break – he was already three minutes out on his logbook. Yes, three minutes. Another of the penalties was a miscalculation that occurred with the time difference, which was an honest mistake.
“I got him to write down the reasons for each fine so we could challenge it. Yes, he made mistakes in his logbook and regretted it, but when you’re traveling and there are time differences between states, these mistakes can happen. And for a small business like ours, it’s just a small husband and wife operation, that amount of money just seems really ridiculous,” Faye said.
After several adjournments, the case was brought before the Port Augusta Magistrate’s Court in South Australia on December 12.
Since these fines were a first time offense, John was given a significant discount, reducing the total amount they would have to pay for all the fines combined from $45,800 to $7,024. They now have to pay it off in installments while they work to get back on their feet.
Now John works on a farm in Narromine, about 250 km from their home in Cobar, while Faye has just found work locally.
“Even though we sold out, we still have to pay our bills just like everyone else,” Faye said. “At the moment John doesn’t feel like he’ll ever drive trucks again – I hope he will one day because it’s in his blood. Both his grandfathers were truck drivers. His brother was too but gave it up 12 months ago. I just don’t know what the future holds.”