How Safe Can We Get?

Talking Turkey About Trucking

There has been a lot of talk about safety in the trucking industry recently. Most of its was stimulated by the close call with and the impending, if Labor win, return of the RSRT. This threat, and threat it is, has got everyone reading from the same page on truck safety.


There are a number of different directions this strategy is taking. Each is designed to demonstrate either actual or provable future improvements in safety outcomes. This will be reflected in the fatality figures in accidents involving heavy vehicles.


Note, we are not talking about the fatal accidents where trucks are at fault, simply when there is a fatality and a truck is involved. The argument has to be about this figure, because it’s the best metric we have. A combination of poor compilation of statistics and incompatible interstate stats, mean we don’t have a definitive figure on how many people die each year as a direct result of a failure by the trucking community.


We are stuck with this number, and it is the number being touted by the supporters of the RSRT. The other number which gets a regular outing is how much more dangerous it is to work in the trucking industry than it is in things like forestry and mining.


Of course it’s more dangerous, people in trucks have to interact with the general public in their own cars, completely oblivious of the size and speed of the trucks around them. Behind the wheel of a truck, the driver has to keep themselves safe plus compensate for the lack of skill, knowledge and anticipation of everyone else on the road.


If mining equipment had to work in close proximity to the population in the big cities, who thought they had the right to weave in and out of the equipment in order to get to work on time, mining would be a very dangerous profession. Of course, they don’t, mining is a dangerous industrial activity which takes place in a controlled environment well away from major population centres on private land.


All of this means nothing, the perception is that trucks are monsters which go around killing people. They are not thought of as the only way the population of Australia could enjoy the comfort and convenience of their current lifestyle. Society’s dependance on trucks is always discounted.


The answer is the trucking industry has to get safer, as measured by the figures which are already biased against us, and in an environment where all of the other participants are irresponsible, but can’t be blamed for fatalities, because they are the electorate.


What is amazing is how well our industry has done, even in the metrics which are adversely weighted. The Australian Trucking Association published figures this week demonstrating a reduction in fatal articulated truck crashes of 80 per cent between 1982 and 2015.


Very impressive figures, which are unlikely to get much of a run in the general media. They go against the narrative so can be quietly ignored. Let’s hope, if the RSRT debate returns, we are able to get facts like these into the general media in a timely manner.


However, it’s not enough. The trucking industry’s commitment to safety has to be stated and reinforced over and over again. Hence, the call for the mandating of stability control in the trucking industry. The figure quoted by the ATA is a 25 per cent fall in fatal heavy vehicle crashes, saving 67 lives.


The period around an election is always fraught and big ticket items like this are always going to be brought up and held up as the way forward. In fact, the changes which will have the biggest impact are unlikely to get much publicity.


Waiting in the wings is the promise of improved safety outcomes from the planned improved roadworthiness program and reform of the accreditation system. This is unlikely to get much airplay in the election noise.


If we want to save lives and improve the perception of the trucking industry, we need to embark on a campaign to educate the public about living with trucks. They need to be brought up to speed, quite literally, with what a truck can do and what it can’t. Easy to say, hard to do.


As a final aside, a real change to the in-service braking regulations for trucks and trailers, without the current compromises built in, could solve a lot of issues in one low-key fell swoop.