In the aftermath of recent accidents and compliance campaigns by roadside enforcement, one of the things given to the press is the percentage of raw numbers of defects or notices issued. These figures are always given out without context and used to create unrest in the general public.
A recent interview with one of those figures involved in a lot of these stories, Paul Endycott, General Manager of Compliance Operations at RMS, actually brought out some figures and the relative proportions of offences. By giving fuller disclosure we do get a better idea about what’s going on out on the highway than the random numbers thrown out in the media, like the seven maintenance items identified in the VicRoads sweep of the BP truck fleet after the accident in Wodonga last week.
In the past year Roads and Maritime Services in NSW have inspected 559,903 trucks and trailers. Of these 72,787 were issued defect notices. This may appear, at first glance, as a high figure but it is worth remembering the relatively low level of fault which can attract a notice. Also, since the introduction of the National Heavy Vehicle Law there are no warnings issued, they go straight to a notice.
The numbers can be used to suggest bad practice, but everyone in the industry knows, there is no way 13 per cent of trucks on the road are in a dangerous condition. The reasons given for the defect notices being issued shown issues ticked off by the RMS are all over the vehicle.
21 per cent of the notices were for brake issues, 19 were called ancillary faults, body and chassis issues made up 18 per cent and wheels made up 16 per cent. At a lower level again, oil and fuel leaks, as well as suspension issues made up eight per cent each.
When it comes to breach reports, three per cent of the over half a million trucks had one issued. The vast majority of these were for mass offences.
Look at those figures from a trucking industry point of view and it all looks reasonably OK. Yes, we could all do a little better, but this is the real world. The RMS are seen to be getting very finicky in their inspections, just looking to rack up defect numbers in order to demonstrate how well they are doing their job.
However, put these numbers into the wrong hands of the spin doctors and we have a different kind of game altogether. All they need is to throw in a few choice adjectives and the fear and loathing of the general public for the trucking industry can get inflamed.
‘A massive 13 per cent of all trucks stopped on NSW highways were found to be faulty’ is the kind of hyperbole we could see. ‘Over one-in-five trucks were found to have defective brakes’ might also make an appearance. Be afraid, be very afraid!