The worthiness of trucks on the road is a hot issue for not only trucking operators, but also the regulators and government departments tasked to keep the industry compliant and the highways safe. It would seem a change in the way the road worthiness of a truck has been assessed and monitored is going to have a substantial change in the next few years.
The recent crashes where poor maintenance have been blamed were followed by revelations the fleets involved were working under the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme (NHVAS). This does not help the credibility of the trucking industry in the eyes of the public and, more importantly at this juncture, in the eyes of the politicians.
The National Transport Commission and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator are undergoing a rushed investigation of the options to improve road safety outcomes by tightening up road worthiness assessment and accreditation.
State and Federal Ministers are said to be ‘pressing hard for urgent action to improve the presentation of heavy vehicles on the roadside’ in the wake of well publicised accidents in various jurisdictions. The resulting clamp down has seen the appearance of a high number of defects being found and receiving publicity when found by police and vehicle inspectors.
Now is not the time to hide away from the issues, changes are imminent in the system but trucking needs to be on its best behaviour and work hard now to give the ministers sitting around the table enough confidence in the industry and its institutions to approve the regulatory impact statement expected to be based on NTC and NHVR recommendations.
If the politicians in the room do get nervous there could be the risk of what some in the industry would call a knee-jerk reaction. Trucking needs to convince all and sundry it is capable of being proactive in pushing higher standards of maintenance across the board without a draconian crackdown from the regulators.
This may mean biting the bullet on annual inspections for all trucks. Currently, NHVAS accredited trucks and those registered in Victoria do not have to go through the system each year. This kind of change may be the only way to get government confidence back in the industry. It will also punish those who do the right thing for not fighting hard enough to keep the scheme credible, in the face of clear breaches by rogue operators.
The kind of complacency and blind eye turning which has clearly been in evidence has brought us to a situation where the auditing system for the NHVAS lacks credibility and there does seem to be a solution on the table which will guarantee a quick return of confidence.
This is not the kind of risky scenario the industry can be comfortable in being a part of. The rational solution may be possible if the ministers are convinced an improved accreditation system will be effective, if not, everyone suffers.
The important thing is to learn from this experience. If a revamped NHVAS does get the nod ,then there is no room for complacency. If the trucking industry is not vigilant and responsible in ensuring high standards throughout, another series of accidents is going to see everyone branded as a menace and trucking will be back in the dog house and vilified on tabloid TV.