The idea of a five star trucking system seems to have dropped off the agenda in the last year or so, after being a good idea for a couple of years before that. Instead, the focus has moved to ensuring roadworthy trucks and finding ways to incentivise trucking companies to have safe trucks on the road.
There seems to be two issues at play here. One, would suggest some form of trucking operation grading would be a good way to go, to concentrate the actions of the regulators on those who were not performing well and leaving the best performers to get on with running a trucking business.
Secondly, the intense concentration on the trucks being in excellent mechanical condition when they are heading down the highway means the trucks on our roads are in good order, but may not have a significant impact on road crash statistics.
I have been talking to a number of trucking operators in New Zealand in the past week or so and chatting about the five level grading truckies across the ditch are given by the road authorities. A five star rating means the trucking company is regarded as safe and receives fewer inspections and spot checks from enforcement. The system also tracks road offence rates. A few black marks can see an operator drop down a rung or two and get more attention from the powers that be.
Unfortunately, the scheme is not well tuned and for many operators it is possible to keep their nose clean and maintain five stars without being proactive about safety and safe procedures. At the other end of the spectrum, a very safety conscious small fleet can lose a high rating and get sent to the back of the class over one incident, for which it was not necessarily to blame.
The big fleets reckon the bar has been set too low and the compliance levels demanded by their corporate bosses, often overseas, are much higher. These higher standards are not rewarded by lower enforcement rates, when compared to fleets who are less compliant, but haven’t been caught. Many operators find the way they are graded to be unfair and fail to reflect their safety processes. The scheme is not regarded by many in the industry as advancing the cause of running a safe and productive operation.
The concentration on the truck being in good mechanical condition, which is the focus of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, is good PR. The industry is shown to be cleaning up its act and avoiding major accidents like the tanker fire in Lane Cove.
This is a noble aim, but unlikely to have much effect on the overall crash and fatality figures when trucks are involved. Figures compiled by NTI show mechanical failure to be at fault in just three per cent of crashes. Tyres are the mechanical problem in fifty per cent of those failures. Trucks in better mechanical condition are a tiny proportion of the vehicles causing accidents.
However, inappropriate speed is a major cause of accidents and a major killer on our roads. Highly compliant fleets with safe systems and practices, those who would get five stars in an effective grading system, are going to be the ones in which inappropriate speed is less of a problem. Lower accidents rates will inevitably result.