In what has been a traumatic week for trucking with legal cases and threats in the air, it is nice to find a haven of rationality, where once there was none. An announcement this week by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator about vehicle testing shows just how far we have come from the chaotic days, not so long ago and still going on, of inconsistent vehicle standards.
The NHVR is calling it a ‘Health Check’, a review of the state of a sample of the 520,000 trucks running around on our highways. It will be a national survey of heavy vehicle roadworthiness carried out in a consistent fashion by inspectors who have all been trained to look for the same safety related items on trucks.
The teams expect to give a thorough going over to around 9,000 trucks of all creeds during August and September. They will all be singing from the same hymn book (The National Heavy Vehicle Inspection Manual) and will have been trained to look at a truck in the same way whether it’s in Launceston or Longreach (also, importantly, in Marulan).
The comprehensive inspections are expected to take about 45 minutes. At the end of this process, the NHVR will have enough data to give its people a true reflection of the effect of the diverse inspection regimes around Australia. From here the NHVR can identify what it needs to work on in each state to achieve the long hoped for nirvana of consistent roadside and roadworthy inspections.
This consistency is the aim of the NHVR in the coming months. To move the states to a place where their inspectors, who are contracted as service providers to the NHVR, actually look at a truck in the same way.
This isn’t much to ask for, is it? National consistency would seem to be the most rational of essential aspects of any inspection regime. However, there isn’t much support for rationality in our federal state system. Instead, we have had to bear the brunt of interstate intransigence for way too long.
Each state has taken especial pride in being different, putting different priorities on defects (or non-defects, it depends where you are). Inspectors seemed to relish the situations where on arrival at a roadside inspection in one state, soon after a similar stop in another state, they could give you chapter and verse on why your truck would have to be grounded.
The argument where you would tell them the other state didn’t see any problem with it seemed to give them extra pride in a job well done, at the same time as putting down an interstate rival. The situation has long been a joke, although those in the middle of it weren’t laughing.
Let’s hope the NHVR can pull this one off. However, I think we need to give them a bit of leeway here. It is all very well to introduce a new inspection manual, and do a health check on the state of trucks and get all of the data into the system, but what will it look like in the flesh?
One of the biggest problem with the interstate issues is the difference in culture. Each state has run its transport department in a different way and under different rules. Each has developed a deeply embedded culture, which has become ingrained in roadside teams over the years. Can the culture be changed? The answer has got to be yes, but the real question is, how long will it take?