Reducing the road toll associated with trucking is a multifaceted problem and we need to be smart when finding safe solutions. There is no silver bullet, we need everyone singing from the same hymn sheet and contributing to the overall wide ranging solution.
The first thing to point out is that we are doing a pretty good job at the moment. The fatalities on the road in which trucks were involved have been decreasing over time. There have been a couple of blips, but the general trend is downward, across the board, and has been for thirty years.
The reasons for this decline are as diverse as the trucking industry itself. There has not been one single solution, but what there has been is a general focus on improving road safety around trucks in many different aspects of the situation.
The early years of this reduction, during the nineties saw trucking able to pick the low hanging fruit. Simply making truck safety an issue was enough to bring it into focus for parts of the industry before which it hadn’t even been on their radar. People talking about safety made it an issue.
Then we had institutional change with the formation of what was called the National Road Transport Commission (now the National Transport Commission). This meant there was some rational input into regulation of trucking which was evidence based and aimed at improving safety. Up until this point trucking legislation had been used as a revenue raiser and formulated as a knee-jerk reaction to issues as they arose.
There were also technical improvements to the trucks themselves. New trucks were coming onto the market with better braking and steering. Safety concerns in Europe and the US fed through, via the trucks from overseas, into the newer trucks on our roads. Luckily for other road users, the newer trucks on the road are those which do the higher kilometres, these are the ones with the more modern safety systems.
This technological improvement has accelerated in recent years. Line-haul trucks will have disc brakes, electronic braking, stability control, rollover mitigation, active cruise control, lane keeping control, plus video and radar looking at the blindspots. All of these systems help the truck and the driver identify the major cause of accidents, other road users in light vehicles, and the single vehicles accidents which also figure in the stats.
Not only are the trucks getting better technically, the condition of trucks on the road has also improved. Schemes like TruckSafe and later the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme have set benchmarks which responsible operators can use to improve safety outcomes in their businesses, and, by the way, their bottom line.
Fatigue rules were also improved over time. Not to everyone’s satisfaction, but in a more formulated and consistent way across the country. The amount of overnight driving has reduced and the amount of staged driving has increased considerably.
Roadside enforcement has also become smarter, while still being inconsistent across borders. Computerised systems allow them to better identify serial offenders and target those they should be chasing.
All of these aspects have contributed in some way towards an improved safety outcome and a lower death toll around trucking generally. All should be commended for their effort.
Now we have picked the low hanging fruit, it’s time to go for the harder stuff. This is already in train in some areas. The NTC is currently undertaking a wholesale review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law. This should result in a nationally consistent and, hopefully, rational law for everyone in a truck on the road. It might even draw WA and the NT into the tent as well.
Any improved legal structure should make the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator’s task of applying said law consistently, easier. The NHVR is also going through process of bringing those roadside officers under its umbrella. This should result in consistent policing and a much more precise database on who are the goodies and who are the baddies.
Some form of rational, transparent and effective accreditation scheme (or schemes) should come out of the roadworthiness policy process, which has dragged along for quite a time, but should come up with something approaching an improvement.
There is also no doubt trucks will get safer. The moves towards autonomous control are slowly creeping into truck control system and throwing all of this technology at the problem is bound to have an impact.
No one solution is going to make our roads safer. It’s simply a matter of keeping up the focus on safety and all pushing in the same direction.