Talking Turkey About Trucking

Learning from Rod Hannifey

Quite often in this column the issue causing grief is the way the trucking industry is perceived by the wider community. Trucking, in general, presents itself badly out on the streets, with truck drivers reinforcing stereotypes in the public’s mind by being intimidating and thoughtless.


We are even worse at presenting ourselves in the media, there seems to be a collective lack of awareness about how to get our point across without giving the general media a chance to put us and our industry down.


The one exception to this is a person who works on his own, independent of any organisation, holding down a full-time truck driving job at the same time as interacting with the media and government. Rod Hannifey is well known for banging on about the same topics for many years, but he has been effective and is regularly featured in news reports about the industry. Unfortunately the biggest news doco of the year, Four Corners, chose to ignore him and concentrate on an unrepresentative rogue element to represent truckies.


Rod’s strength does not come from who he represents or from an important sounding job title, it comes from a concentrated long term effort to get the right message across to the right people. The message is always plain and simple, he hits the same notes consistently, driving home the safety, responsibility, courtesy message on the roads and documenting the state of our highways to the authorities.


Compare this to the mixed messages and non-soundbite material put out by other spokespeople for trucking. Often the real message gets caught up with politically correct jargon obscuring the stark reality. There is a reluctance to criticise those who are at fault, especially those in the industry, and a certain amount of in-fighting among those representing us. The only media which pick up on these releases are the trucking trade publications, talking only to the truckies, not the general population.


Rod Hannifey gets little coverage in the trade mags, he’s more interested in talking to local media and TV stations out on the road, where the trucking industry actually functions. The most recent coverage he has received was from the West Coast Sentinel, a newspaper based in Ceduna at the Eastern end of the Nullarbor crossing. The message was clear and simple, reducing accidents, by improving car drivers’ understanding of trucks, and improved rest stops for drivers.


Look at the side of the Truckright B-double Rod drives around the nation and there is a lot of reading to be done. The message is set out in all of its detail for anyone to read, Rod understands the bigger issues and will offer an opinion. Talking to us in the industry he can be as long winded as the rest of us are.


However, turn up next to his cab with a notepad, camera or voice recorder and he will go into simplified message mode. You will see him hitting the same bullet points to make it easy for the media, for whom the truckie’s world is another planet, to put together a straightforward good news story with an important positive message. Job done! Why can’t the rest of us do it?

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Making drivers too safe

At this time of year the subject of the death toll on our roads comes to the front of the mind. The madness on the highways around Easter sees thousands of car drivers travelling too far, for too long on unfamiliar roads in overloaded or badly loaded cars. At the same time, the poor truckie has to try and do the job of keeping the supermarket shelves stacked high with goods for the Easter rush.


The kind of driving behaviour exhibited by some car drivers in holiday mode taking on cross country trips exemplifies one of the major causes of mayhem on our roads, drivers being unaware of other vehicles on the road and feeling safely cocooned in the comfort of a modern car with all of the safety systems available.


Countless campaigns fail to make any impression on driver psychology around trucks. Being unaware of a vehicle nearby is extremely dangerous at the best of times, when the vehicle is a truck, it is a disaster waiting to happen. Making manoeuvres assuming the truck will move out of the way, slow down or stop constitutes risk-taking behaviour. Most of the problems which occur stem from car drivers’ lack of awareness and knowledge.


Luckily for them, and the road toll figures, the truck driver is aware, very aware. They have had plenty of experience compensating for the lack of knowledge among car drivers and have to assume the car driver’s behaviour will endanger everyone’s life.


For truck drivers the inherent danger involved in travelling the highway is always front of mind. Being attached to the front of a massive lump of metal and material weighing 60 plus tonnes at 100 km/h, with a minimum stopping distance of 100 metres on a good day, concentrates the mind wonderfully.


How can we engender this kind of fear into the car driving population? How come the general public feel fear when another ‘monster trucks’ story appears on A Current Affair, but drive their cars oblivious to the potential danger all around them? Where is the education going to come from, or do we just have to live with some dangerous drivers in cars putting all of our lives at risk?

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Remuneration Order looms over trucking

It’s only a few weeks away, the Road Safety Remuneration Order, better known as the ‘Road Transport and Distribution and Long Distance Operations Road Safety Remuneration Order 2014’, comes into force on May 1. Are you ready? Is anyone ready? The order has crept up on us with minimal publicity and little advance information.


Where the uncertainty lies is in whether the order will be acted upon by the authorities. The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal is a creature of the last Labor Government at federal level and is, therefore, anathema to the Abbott government. The assumption has been the law would be repealed by an incoming Coalition Government but there is very little action yet and the deadline draws close.


Senator Eric Abetz, who is the Minister responsible for this area of the law had commissioned a report into whether the order is a duplication of the existing regulation and whether it achieves anything. The report was due back to the Minister by the end of March, and this is all we currently know.


Clearly, the way the commission was worded indicated an assumption the order was simply a replication of the current rules. We can therefore assume the report will conclude this to be the case. Even with a report saying this, it is not clear how the trucking industry stands, as of May 1.


At the moment, there is an order, it is law and it comes into force in a fortnight. There may be a report on the Ministers desk saying the order is pointless, but the legislation is still extant and road transport operators can be liable as of the start date. The Government has said the Carbon Tax will be repealed, it is still on the statute books and Tony Abbott will need to get his ducks in a row in the Senate to repeal it.


At 13 pages, the order is not a simple read. The first thing anyone needs to know is whether they are covered by the order and what their exposure is. Operators need to work out which of their drivers and sub-contractors are covered by the order and then ensure compliance on a number of counts. Contracts between employer and employee, as well as between contractor and sub-contractor, and safe driving plans have to meet specific criteria set out in the order. There are also specifications on training, drug and alcohol policy and payment periods.


Failure to comply with the order, even if it is short lived, could have serious consequences. Prosecutions could happen and even if the rules are about to be repealed, operators will still be found in breach. We might not like it but we will have to live with it, for now.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Is the trucking industry ready for new challenges?

Unfortunately, working in the trucking industry, we are destined to always be living in ‘interesting times’. There has never been a time in living memory when people involved in road transport haven’t been lurching from one potential crisis to the next. It’s in the industry’s DNA, the tendency to wait until a problem gets big enough to take drastic action to solve the issue. It’s a bit like the way many of the more traditional truckies run their business. Read more

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Keeping up the pressure over NHVR

The shock resignation of the CEO of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator last week has further set back the prospects of a national regulator for the road transport industry. This is not a crisis but it could become one if the trucking industry doesn’t co-operate with and aid the fledgling regulator to get up and running. Read more

Talking Turkey About Trucking

NHVR permit problems, states in the firing line

Many in the industry may have suspected there was something fishy about the tsunami of permit applications which hit the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator on February 10, the first day of operation of the national permitting system. Anecdotal evidence seemed to point to a slowing down of the permit processing system at a state level in the lead up to the handover of responsibility to the NHVR in Brisbane. However, nobody was willing to put their head above the parapet and suggest such skullduggery took place.


Then up pops the ever reliable Duncan Gay, NSW Roads Minister, to imply some jurisdictions may have used this ploy to disrupt the smooth transition over to a national system in an effort to keep state control of the heavy vehicle regulatory system. The disarming Mr Gay tells us, the RMS in NSW would have had nothing to do with this kind of behaviour and have a faultless record.


Speaking at the Livestock and Bulk Carriers Association of NSW last weekend, Gay was talking to a friendly audience who have seen him come up with reforms in recent years to give both livestock and bulk transporters some real productivity gains. The permit bungles have affected the sector as well, but the swift return of responsibility for permits to the RMS has quickly decreased the backlog in the state.


“The national regulator, it’s something we need, it’s something important,” said Gay at the LBCA Conference. “We have had a hiccup upfront. Can I congratulate the staff at the RMS, having given that load away, our state was in a better position than most when it went over. Some weren’t nearly as efficient as us, they had stopped processing about a month before, which was totally disingenuous, which helped create this problem.”


The NHVR may not have been properly prepared, as of February 10, to meet the permit challenge. A staged, sector by sector, introduction may have been a better option, to migrate the trucking industry across from one system to the other. The thing is it is hard to discern who was to blame because, apparently, some of the states were being ‘disingenuous’, but not NSW, of course.


There is clearly not much goodwill between some in the state transport bureaucracies and the new boys and girls running the NHVR. They need to sort themselves out pretty quickly. The trucking industry can’t sit around waiting, with loads needing permits to move, for the regulators to work through their territorial squabbles.


Yet again, transport operators are working in an inconsistent and unstable regulatory environment, until this is properly sorted out. It is not good for business to have an increase in uncertainty. The NHVR project has to succeed and someone needs to bang some heads together, make the transition to national permitting and take the petty politics between bureaucrats out of the equation.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Sleep apnoea, trucking needs action now

The problem of sleep apnoea encapsulates a number of the problems besetting the road transport industry. Fatigue, and its management, is one of the daily challenges for everyone, from one end of the supply chain to the other. Our ageing, overweight and relatively unhealthy workforce has become a problem in and of itself.


The conditions many of these drivers work in is less than ideal so, as a result, young, fit and enthusiastic people are not flocking into the workforce. The only prospect is the situation is likely to just get worse, and it’s bad enough already.


Recent reports into the industry have put the level of obesity in the trucking industry at 50 per cent. In a sample of 517 drivers tested, 41 per cent were found to be suffering from obstructive sleep apnoea, of which 16 per cent were reckoned to be classified as severe. There is a direct link between being over weight and suffering from sleep disorders.


These sorts of levels of occurrence of a condition like sleep apnoea would raise alarm in any profession. Add in the fact this profession spends its time at 100 km/h in control of vehicles of 60 plus tonnes and beyond, and the problem becomes one of public safety. The Australian public is lucky the truck driving profession performs so well under such pressure, there is a lot of experience in coping with severe fatigue in the workforce.


Not only is there a high prevalence of sleep disorders, the profession also works some of the longest hours of any in the country. This is not a nine to five job, these people are working all times of the day and night each week. In the study by the Monash University Accident Research Centre the interviewers found 40 per cent of drivers willing to admit to struggling to stay awake while driving in the previous month and as many as 17 per cent saying they had experienced this twice in the previous week.


So, where is the public outcry? Why aren’t people in and around the industry standing up and shouting about the issue? Why isn’t easy testing and treatment for sleep disorders a priority throughout the industry? Have we brought suspicion upon ourselves by allowing a drug culture to remain strong among some parts of the industry? Why aren’t transport companies doing hair follicle drug testing on all of their drivers?


The big question is, will this go away? The answer is a resounding NO!

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Trucking must defend the NHVR

It may now be time to circle the wagons as the rampaging hordes approach on horseback. Attacking the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator has now become a national sport, with a front page news story, followed up by a self-serving opinion piece in today’s Australian newspaper. Read more

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Learning the lessons from Cootes

This year has started with a succession of depressing news stories as Cootes are put through the wringer by RMS. Anything which means photos or footage of burning trucks on Australian roads in the media is bad for everyone in the trucking industry. Our biggest problem is the public perception of us, which results in the truckies getting the blame for many issues on our roads.


Nobody is saying there isn’t a problem with poorly maintained trucks in the Cootes fleet and this contributed to two deaths last October in Mona Vale. The industry has to look to itself to solve the problems, if we let the authorities run the show, then it is going to be bad news for everyone.


Now, 540 personnel are losing their jobs as McAleese trim down the fuel hauling fleet in the wake of the loss of contracts due to the safety issues in the Cootes fleet. Many of these are good operators and would hope to pick up work with whoever it is who has picked up the lost contracts. Skilled fuel tanker drivers are not two-a-penny.


The Roads and Maritime Service have entered the fray again this week announcing 300 charges against Cootes. They have gone through the fleet with a fine tooth comb and come up with 222 notices being issued for issues around interstate rego and operating an unsafe vehicle plus more for mass and fuel leaks.


Up until the crash last October, the Cootes fleet were in the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme and were having their maintenance systems audited. Is anyone investigating the NHVAS and its auditing system, or is this too big a can of worms to open? Are we scared what we might find?


If we are going to come out of this in good shape the trucking industry needs to work together. We need a single goal agreed by the majority of stakeholders which will improve safety outcomes and satisfy the regulators of of its effectiveness without making too big a dint in the precious productivity everyone is searching for.


Is this possible? People like Lindsay Fox coming out in the press and rowing his own boat is not helpful. Trying to distance ourselves from the issues doesn’t do much good either. We have to engage, get our hands dirty and take the bitter pill, take this issue extremely seriously. Go to the regulators, cap in hand, with pragmatic helpful solutions, not self-serving platitudes, but most of all do it together.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Did trucking dodge a bullet?

It would seem many people in the trucking industry will feel we dodged a bullet after the ABC Four Corners program on Monday highlighted many of the issues facing the industry in the recent past and the coming years. The program could have stirred up a great deal of anti-truckie feeling but was a restrained and informed look at the world of trucking.


In the run up to the show being aired there was a great deal of anxiety about what the TV would show and how strongly the public, and consequently the government, would react to stories about people being killed in accidents with poorly maintained trucks or where drivers were fatigued. Even Diesel News got caught up in the worries about the outcome.


What about the reaction within the industry? Now is not the time for relief about avoiding some of the nightmare scenarios, now is the time for action to ensure the industry is not at risk of being tarred with the same brush as a rogue operator. The TV show did demonstrate where the cracks are starting to appear.


The maintenance regime, as a whole, leaves a lot to be desired and many in the industry have been talking about how some operators can continue with some forms of accreditation when the trucks or trailers they are running are not up to scratch. A lot of resentment is felt by trucking operations competing for work against those they know to be flouting the regulations.


Many trucking operators would have got shivers down their spine watching a former operations manager sitting in front of the camera listing the company’s misdemeanours. There has been a culture of just wanting to get the job done for a long time in our industry. It is engrained in the DNA of many of us who have spent our lives in road transport. We have all seen these things happen and tried to minimise them, but they still occur.


Probably the most moving sequence on Four Corners was the story of the two unfortunate car drivers killed at the side of a West Australian highway by a fatigued driver drifting into their parked vehicles. No-one could complain about the punishment meted out the driver after his conviction. However, the story gave us all hope when the victim’s wife expressed her forgiveness to the truckie face to face and ended the story on a positive note.


Where do we stand after such an examination of our industry on prime time TV? We certainly are not in such a bad position as may have occured. Yes, NSW is clamouring about how tough it is going to be. Nothing new there! Cootes and Blenners are going through a legal wringer fighting to keep their business going.


I think trucking has dodged a bullet this week but we had better not react with complacency. Having dodged one bullet, now is the time to bite the bullet and get really serious about safety in our industry, so we don’t live in fear of the next exposé just around the corner.