The answer to the simple question, do we want safer trucks? Of course, the answer is yes, no-one wants their trucks to be less safe, do they. However a survey by the national Heavy Vehicle Regulator does highlight an issue.
There are lots of safety technologies being developed and offered in modern trucks, but not all of them are taken up by truck manufacturers or truck buyers. We may say we want to make the truck as safe as possible, when asked the question. When it comes to opening the cheque book and signing off on the new truck, then compromises are made and not all of the new safer technologies get a guernsey.
Historically, the trucking industry in Australia has had a resistance to some sophisticated technology in trucks. There is a wariness to the fitting of some equipment, it may work well on the highways of Europe or North America, but does it function well in the much tougher Aussie conditions?
There is some truth in this supposition. Australia is a small truck market and we are a technology taker, we have to use equipment designed to work elsewhere in the world and then adapt it for our own peculiar conditions. This is a compromise in itself. Trucks in Australia run faster, heavier, further and in much higher ambient temperatures than just about anywhere else in the world.
These considerations are very important in components like those in the driveline, which do all the work. But should we also think like this about the myriad safety technologies which are becoming available?
It is understandable to have a level of suspicion about the new technologies. I, myself, was very wary of the new braking technologies when they first started to come into trucks. After many years experience with simple drum brakes, the first time you hit the brake pedal hard at high speed and fully loaded, with EBS and ESP fitted, is pretty frightening. It feels like the truck is not going to stop.
In fact, the truck is going to stop and the trailers are going to stop in a straight line, and will probably come to a halt before they would have under traditional braking. That’s not how it feels that first time, the sphincter tightens, momentarily, before the truck starts to slow.
It is experiences like this which induce a level of suspicion among the traditionalists in the industry. Operators may hesitate to introduce new technologies, wary of losing good operators if they change the type of truck components they buy.
The truck makers will offer an array of safety features, but not very many come as standard. Often they are an optional extra, buyers have to opt in rather than opt out. The changes in the latest Chain of Responsibility rules may change this dynamic, where the truck owner does have an obligation to take reasonable steps to ensure safety. It depends where the line gets drawn, legally.
Then you have the other problem with safety systems, drivers may choose to switch them off. The suspicion of modern technology could see very safe trucks travelling down the highway, dumbed down by the flick of a switch.