When is a defect not a defect?

Talking Turkey About Trucking

One of those perennial issues which dogs the trucking industry is the inconsistency of roadside enforcement. No matter what you do, it is always possible to get a truck defected in a roadside inspection. This is frustrating for everyone involved, all the way from the owner, the driver and operations, as well as the workshop responsible for maintaining and fixing the issue.



How many times have you heard the story of a truck driver who has driven through several states and had the truck inspected a number of times, only to have the last roadside inspector defect the vehicle for something trivial? Then begins the tiresome process of getting the defect cleared, never easy and the process often seems to have been designed just to create even more frustration.



It was this kind of unnecessary difficulty the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator was set up to eliminate. Several years into the project and we are just starting to see some real progress in some areas, but this roadside inconsistency is likely to continue for quite some time.



This week Christopher Melham has spoken out about the issue, at the same time as spruiking the ATA’s 2015 TMC in Melbourne in October. The point is a valid one, and the event will see representatives of the roadside agencies and truck workshop on the dais working through the topic. However, this is only just scratching the surface, the problem is deeply rooted in the custom and practice of trucking regulation.



“We’ve all heard of cases where the same roadworthiness requirement is interpreted differently by jurisdictions or inspectors, leading to confusion,” said Chris. “Safety is our highest priority on the road. But the trucking industry’s workshops need to know exactly what the standards are, in order for them to keep their fleet in top shape.”



The problems are manifold. There is no way to set hard and fast rules on the roadworthiness of every truck in every situation. The standards are set very precisely, but, on a case by case basis, every single item is open interpretation. It is often the individual officer who makes the call, based on experience and training, but also the attitude of the driver to the inspection and perhaps their own mood, good or bad.



Of course we have to accept a certain degree of variation. People are different and judgement calls will always vary, it’s simply human nature. The problem is, this is not the only variable effecting the situation.



Each state has developed their own roadside enforcement agency and they have grown to have their own culture, and these are markedly different as you move from state to state. Just the way the driver is spoken to and how the situation is explained can be vastly different. Anyone with experience of vehicle inspections in two or more states will be able to testify to this.



Variation between states was further enhanced by the fact, vehicle law was different in each state. The introduction of the NHVR has seen a convergence of the basic rules, but the variable cultures and interpretations this engenders continue to frustrate.



Then we have to include the political factor. Sometimes, the state government needs to make a political point and demonstrate its clamping down hard on the trucking industry. It is hard to believe the inspectors involved in a highly publicised blitz on trucking aren’t motivated to get the defect count up to serve the point their department is trying to make.



So, here we have it, a series of factors, all of which accentuate the other. If all of the influences are against the truckie, there is no way the truck is going to get away without a defect, we all know it’s impossible to have a truck absolutely perfect all of the time.



Conversely, it’s also possible for all of the influences on a defect decision are going the other way. In the worst case scenario, this could mean a fully loaded truck pulling out onto the highway, after an inspection, but with defective brakes, a disaster waiting to happen.



We will never be able to eliminate the human error factor, but everything else needs improvement. It urgently needs a concerted push by all concerned to get a single standard accepted in every state. Then those consistent standards need to be driven hard, down through the hierarchy so they genuinely affect the person stood at the side of the road making calls on defects. We’ve already been waiting too long!