Modernise the Fleet

The increased fatality figures in New South Wales have led to calls to modernise the fleet. The shock of the steep increase in deaths in 2017 has provoked a reaction and a number of different solutions have been put forward, including fleet modernisation.

First of all it was Michael Byrne, Toll CEO, in his open letter to the Prime Minister which called for a number of changes. This has been followed by a call from the Truck Industry Council also citing the high average age of the Australian fleet and the corresponding lack of modern safety equipment.

The TIC statement points out 42 per cent of the truck fleet in Australia were registered before 2003. Therefore, they do not have any of the advanced safety features we expect as normal on a truck we might buy this year.

“Government can mandate investment in newer, safer more sustainable fleet,” said the letter from Byrne. “Technologies such as autonomous emergency braking systems, lane departure warning systems and electronic stability control can save up to 104 lives per year but are taking too long to become standard in the fleet.

“The average age of a heavy rigid truck in Australia is 15.7 years. The average age of an articulated truck is 11.9 years. An operator licensing system could stipulate a maximum vehicle age or offer subsidies/incentives to safe operators to deploy these life-saving technologies.”

Both of these initiatives have their own boat to row, of course. For Toll a national operator licensing system would heighten the barrier to entry into the trucking industry and reduce competition. Also, any licensing system would be less rigorous than the one a multinational company like Toll puts its divisions through anyway.

From the point of view of the TIC, its members are in the business of selling new trucks. They want us to buy more new trucks, nothing wrong with that.

However, the basic point they both make is valid. We do need to modernise our fleet and any modernisation should improve safety outcomes. The more trucks on the road with ABS and EBS fitted, the better the outcomes will be. The more stability control there is out there on the road fitted on trucks and trailers, the less fatalities are likely to happen.

It’s how we do this, which is a point of debate. If the aim of the game is to reduce the number of trucks on the road built before 2003, for example, there are a number of ways to skin this particular cat.

Roadside exhaust emission testing would sort out the wheat from the chaff pretty comprehensively. If an operator knows they are likely to be pinged for high PM and NOx, they are more likely to get the engine set up correctly or replaced and updating a 1990s truck to a more modern one is not that onerous.

The new scheme being planned to replace the existing rego regime could set varying rates for trucks based upon their exhaust gas emission rating, Euro 3, Euro 4 etc.or date of manufacture. Again the incentive is there to modernise without bringing in a complex licensing system.

There may also be ways to incentivise operators in other ways. Large infrastructure projects are starting to set safety standards on any truck used in a tender. Supermarket, and of course fuel distribution, tenders are also specific about safety systems. This could be extended further.

Whatever the incentive, anything which improves safety outcomes has to be welcomed, but the system must not be set up to suit the more powerful stakeholder with the loudest PR department. An equitable incentive, whatever it is, which can demonstrate an improved safety outcome has to be our aim.