Recent events have seen a number of people ramping up the safety agenda, but it shouldn’t need severe criticism from elsewhere to get us fired up. The trucking industry needs to stand together as a single unit on these kinds of issues and present a strong and practical front, backed up by good PR, there is no room for error.
It all started with the road crash statistics from last year. Although relatively low in number, the percentage jump in deaths from accidents involving trucks in NSW was something the anti-trucking lobby could hang their arguments on. Read more
In Victoria, the demand for Approved Vehicle Examiners (AVEs) able to sign off on the correct fitting of a fifth wheel has been an issue. To get a fifth wheel certified, it has to be in a dealership and the AVE signatory needs to attend. This has worked okay in metro areas, but there were major issues outside of big cities. These limitations led to unnecessary periods of vehicle downtime. Read more
It’s not going to happen soon, but are you ready for roadside fatigue testing? There have been a number of technological developments which mean the possibility of a road enforcement officer being able to check to see if a driver is fit to drive and not suffering from fatigue, could become a reality.
Systems able to trace eye movements and blink intervals have been around for nearly twenty years but the products on the market have either been expensive or difficult to manage. This is a high technology field with a lot of top end kit involved, working in a robust and unforgiving environment, the truck cabin.
Some big operators in Australia, including some involved in the mining industry invested in glasses which the driver could wear and which monitored eye movement and blinking. These have to be individually calibrated to the particular driver in order to get accurate results.
The driver has to wear the glasses all of the time they are behind the wheel and will then get a warning if the glasses’ monitoring system detects shorter blink intervals or wandering concentration. These alarms will get more stringent as the fatigue gets more pronounced.
It is this basic idea which has been developed further by sleep researchers from the Austin Health and Institute for Breathing and Sleep in Victoria. They have taken the smart glasses, which detect eye movement, blink timing and how the driver scans the road ahead and are taking them a step further.
The researchers are heading down the road of a one size fits all solution. If the system does not need individual driver calibration, then roadside enforcement officers would be able to assess the fatigue of a truck driver in much the same way as the breathalyser detect alcohol levels in the blood.
It has been a long and harrowing ride for some of those involved, the process of driving PBS forward looks like it has finally gained some real traction. When the whole idea of Performance Based Standards was first mooted in the 1990s, it was touted as the ultimate solution for many of the problems of the Australian trucking industry. Read more
Carol Single, co-owner of Single Transport Services and life member of the Mackay Road Accident Action Group (RAAG), has been spending a lot of her time campaigning about what she and many others describe as one of the most archaic and inadequate stretches of highway in Australia.
Some 10km to the west is the small township of Walkerston. The main thoroughfare, Dutton Street, is a section of the Peak Downs Highway, a major freight route to the west of Mackay. The stretch of road has grown from its horse and cart days in 1876 to a major heavy vehicle freight route and the only B-double route west of Mackay. Five decades ago, the narrow roadway through the small town of Walkerston was flagged as a serious danger to road users and the local community.
In fact, in 1972, what everyone had hoped would never happen, did happen. On the Fitzroy Development Road, 90km from Taroom in central Queensland, an electrical fault caused a fire in a semi-trailer carrying ammonium nitrate, sparking a massive explosion. The devastating explosion killed three people including the truck driver, and was heard and felt up to 88km away.
With such a scary scale of devastation, albeit mercifully in an isolated location, it’s hardly surprising then–Police Minister Tom Newberry was galvanised into action in calling for the Walkerston bypass. His concerns were obviously well founded. It is truly mind numbing to think about the social cost, both in lives and property, if such a disaster were to occur within close proximity of a town like Walkerston.
In more recent times there have been several explosions in different parts of the country involving trucks carrying ammonium nitrate. In May 2013 at Wubin in Western Australia; September 2014 at Angellala Creek, 30 kilometres south of Charleville, Queensland; and in November 2014 at Ti Tree on the Stuart Highway, 200 kilometres north of Alice Springs, Northern Territory. The Angellala Creek accident was chillingly similar to the Taroom tragedy some 42 years prior. A double road train carrying 44 1.2-tonne bulk bags of ammonium nitrate crashed into the creek bed at 8:55pm. A fire started, causing a small explosion that was followed by a massive explosion at 10:12pm, which left a crater 12 metres long, six metres wide and six metres deep. The blast completely destroyed the road train and the road bridge, a rail bridge and an attending fire truck. A second fire truck, two transport trucks and a police car were seriously damaged and eight people were injured. Miraculously, no lives were lost.
It’s this sort of carnage and road trauma that drives Carol and the group she is an active part of, the Mackay-based organisation Road Accident Action Group (RAAG) to continue working with all stakeholders to deliver this and other much-needed infrastructure upgrades to improve road safety outcomes.
Indeed, RAAG believes the Walkerston bypass is definitely top of the list of most pressing infrastructure upgrades needed in the region. As such, the group is heavily engaged in advocating to politicians in all tiers of government to make sure they are aware of the safety issues and community concerns and to ensure this infrastructure upgrade is commenced as soon as possible. Carol is an active and vocal member of RAAG as well as its secretary, and she maintains the reason nothing has been done so far to remedy this issue, flagged nearly half a century ago is the relative isolation of the region from capital cities and, indeed, Canberra, where much of the federal road funding decision-making is done. It is on this basis that RAAG completes research and presents evidence-based submissions to the relevant state and federal political members.
“Sometimes it feels like the further you are away from the capital cities, the harder it is to be heard, and the less money you get,” says Carol. “The Peak Downs Highway through Walkerston (AKA Dutton Street) is the only B-double route west of Mackay, and crosses the 76-year-old, narrow, two-lane, wooden Kirkup Bridge. The bridge was built in an era when fuel was transported in 44-gallon drums on the trays of small trucks. Each lane is only 2.8m wide, meaning wide loads over 3.5m cannot use this route. This leads to the ridiculous situation where escorted over-dimensional loads from 3.5 to 10m wide must use Rosella Eton Road, which is not a B-double route.
“We have lots of pedestrians – schoolchildren, mums with bubs, everyone – crossing this little bridge, it shakes like hell and you can see how little room there is on either side of the truck.”
Carol refers to a picture she took while standing on the veranda of the Duke Hotel in Walkerston. RAAG members were doing a 36-hour traffic survey to support submissions for funding the Walkerston Bypass. She describes the chaotic scene at 3:00pm each weekday in the main street of Walkerston, just as school finishes for the day.
“It’s a typical afternoon, three o’clock. You can see the lollipop lady is on the left near the chemist, and the school is on the right,” she says. “There’s another pub in the distance where the body truck is about to turn into the main street.
“Several trucks have actually crashed into the Walkerston schoolyard at this corner and now we have 10 new school buildings right along the edge of the highway, which is Dutton Street, the main street in Walkerston.
“All these problems are due to an 1876 surveyed road trying to cope with 2017 traffic, it’s just crazy.”
Yet despite all of these issues, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. After 13 years of submissions and presentation to all and sundry by RAAG, to highlight the urgent need for a bypass of Walkerston, a solution appears to be getting closer.
“We’re thrilled that the Federal Government has actually come to the party and agreed to put in an extra $45 million for the project, bringing their total funding commitment to $120 million,” says Carol. “We certainly have met with every politician we could. We’ve taken them on drives, we’ve put them under bridges, we’ve done whatever we could to help them see the urgency for the Walkerston bypass.
“It’s been a very long journey, but I think it’s a great thing that we now have the Federal Government recognising the need to get dangerous goods out of the small township of Walkerston. The fact that they’ve committed $120 million of the estimated $160 million required to complete the bypass is fantastic. However, to complete this much awaited project, the state government is yet to commit publicly to integrating the Walkerston Bypass with the Ring Road to complete both projects together.”
Here’s hoping the stars will align and the state government will step up to the plate and set in concrete its verbal commitment to supply the remaining $40 million to enable the completion of the Walkerston Bypass within the next five years. This is the least the community of Walkerston deserves.
Currently it is not proposed to even start until after Stage 1 of the Mackay Ring Road is completed in another three years, and then only if all the funding is committed. Logically, the Mackay Ring Road and Walkerston Bypass should be completed together or it will be at least another five years before dangerous goods and trucks will be able to bypass Walkerston.
Perusing the figures for heavy-vehicle crashes in the vicinity of Walkerston in recent times is indeed a sobering exercise. For instance, between 2012 and 2014 there were a staggering 46 heavy-vehicle crashes recorded, with three involving loaded B-double fuel tankers just west of Walkerston.
While it might be considered fortunate that to date no catastrophic accidents involving heavy vehicles have occurred within the township of Walkerston, the longer this amount of heavy vehicle and dangerous goods traffic is forced to pass through the town, the more likely it is that something serious will happen. It could be simply a matter of time, and the consequences could be deadly.
The practical impacts of the changes in the chain of responsibility rules, due to commence next year, are all about the relationships with other parties in the chain. It’s all about talking to them and working out how to make the activity safer. Read more
The clarion call from, long time trucking advocate, Rod Hannifey for many years has been for the authorities to fix truck rest areas! This is a subject which has exercised Rod’s mind for many years and he still finds the lot of the truck driver, out on the highway looking for somewhere to park up, getting worse.
“It is time something is done,” says Rod. “It has taken nearly 18 years to get recognition and involvement from just two road authorities for the green reflector marking of informal truck bays. One bay can be signed with 6 stick on reflectors at a cost of $5 each and done in 15 minutes. You will never get a better cost benefit ratio for a road safety initiative that could save a life and drivers tell me I have saved their life, in showing somewhere to stop safely.
“If we cannot get bits of dirt marked with reflectors, how the hell are we to get enough suitable and sufficient bays for the growing number of trucks on the road, let alone all the caravanners and free campers? There have been more bays closed and lost than have been built in the last ten years.”
Rod takes aim at the decision makers who are closing bays for petty reasons. He points out their offices have toilets on every floor, food and beverages available and no problems getting a meal or quiet spot for a break.
Most parking bays are far from adequate, but even a bad bay is better than nothing. Bays are getting closed by road authorities rather than being improved, because the trucking community is such a low priority, reckons Rod.
“Look at the Hilltop, on the Colo Vale overpass, southbound on the Hume coming out of Sydney,” says Rod. “When I saw temporary closures on the site, I rang RMS to be told they were fixing the area. It had serious potholes that meant you had to be nearly stopped to enter or leave.
“Two weeks later, there is Armco end to end. Another number of calls over months, to finally be told an RMS staffer had seen a near miss when a car would not let a truck merge, no different to when they won’t let us merge on merging lanes, yet it was closed. The money spent on the Armco, could easily have properly fixed the potholes for years to come.”
Rod goes on to list large numbers of other sites where the bays are inadequate or just blocked off. There is a legal requirement on stater governments to provide adequate roadside parking. Any audit of the situation in just about every state would show these state governments falling well short of the minimum requirement.
The latest move by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator mean EWDs are coming. The minimum performance based standards for an Electronic Work Diary which the NHVR will pass as compliant have been released. Read more
This latest information video from the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) is well made, but is it well targeted? There is a lot of information to get out there and a lot of stakeholders who need to get a handle on the new chain of responsibility rules, but how effective is this video and how much did it cost?Read more