This is just a small part of the presentation by Professor Mark Stevenson, Director of the Monash University Accident Research Centre in a talk to Federal MPs and Senators at Parliament House during the recent Freight Week campaign. The good professor highlights a major issue for the trucking industry which many people know about, but which is studiously ignored.
His talk on the safety issues surrounding trucking highlighted a number of central issues. There is a skill shortage and using inexperienced drivers triples the risk of a crash. ABS and cruise control both reduce the risk of an accident. You can also triple the risk of a crash by driving between midnight and 6 am.
Now, all of these are known risk factors and we are doing something about them. New fatigue laws have decreased overnight driving out on the open highway. ABS is coming in by dribs and drabs, and NSW are mandating stability control for dangerous goods in the future. The skill shortage is a tricky one, cleaning up the industry’s image and engaging properly with the community is our only hope there.
It’s the issue of the risks associated with empty running which are on my mind today. This is something so obvious, it’s beggars belief so little has been done to improve safety outcomes in the past twenty years. There is a simple solution which costs little and has been available for a long time, but has never been mandated up to now.
Recent changes in brake regulations does mean we are likely to see some form of load sensing fitted to most new trailers in the future. That leaves thousands of older dumb trailers out there on the road as we speak.
Anyone with experience of driving any kind of combination knows just how unpredictable an unladen trailer can be. Over the years drivers learn to compensate for this erratic behaviour and try and avoid the long black skid marks dotted along our highways. A skilled driver will almost always be in control in those situations and can get by without any load sensing. However, spend more then five minutes at a busy intersection in a freight area and you will soon see some trailer brakes locking up.
At the same time, we are being told about the increasing number of lower skilled drivers on our roads. This means the risks are increasing. Luckily for the other road users, many of the less experienced drivers work in the bigger fleets who have adopted safer trailer braking technologies to compensate for the lower skill levels.
There are still a lot of flat top trailers out there with drum brakes, without slack adjusters, which can be deadly in the wrong hands. Especially when empty.
In service brake testing concentrates on axle group braking and not how the combination is set up. Luckily, we do have some very experienced people working on our trucks and trailers who can set up a combination which will behave safely without all of the safety systems fitted, but surely we are running an undue risk by not mandating load sensing, at least, to ensure fewer mistakes are made.