The disconnection between the type of braking systems available, globally, and the regulations in Australia which specify brake performance has been an ongoing issue in the trucking industry. The introduction of mandatory electronic braking systems (EBS) is having the effect of bringing the legislation up to date with the technology.
The last 30 years has seen a series of ongoing discussions about Australian Design Rules governing braking in on trucks and trailers, ADRs 35 and 38. Over this period the way trucks and trailers brake has changed beyond recognition. Meanwhile, the actual ADRs governing the braking systems has lagged considerably behind.
First there was antilock braking systems (ABS), but now there are many acronyms in this space. The main technology to be included in the mix is electronic braking systems (EBS). However, this technology enables a number of other functions to be used, like Roll Stability Control (RSC) and electronic load sensing.
Twenty years ago these kinds of technology started to appear on top end European prime movers, but over the ensuing years these kind of technology are now able to be fitted to any new vehicle and are regularly retro-fitted to older trailers.
These systems take road safety to another level and operators who are running these systems report fewer incidents. However, this improved performance was not mandated for quite some time.
The reason for the reticence on the part of legislators to drive the introduction of these state-of-the-art systems was a resistance in many sectors to the use of this modern technology. Driving a truck with full EBS feels very different from a traditional combination with a dumb braking system.
As a result, drivers unused to the new systems complained of brakes not working and coming on when they weren’t supposed to. Operators in rural areas have remained resistant to ABS as they contend it is a dangerous system to use on dirt roads.
On the other side of the fence, truck safety experts were pointing out that it was possible, if those setting up the system weren’t careful, for a prime mover to be fully compliant with ADR 35 pulling a trailer compliant with ADR 38 and be unable to brake properly, especially when unladen.
EBS technology was seen as a solution to bring all truck and trailer combinations up to a safe standard as it uses load sensing and smart apportioning of braking effort to slow the combination as safely as possible.
Even after the EBS became commonly available, the mandating of such a system did not come into force in the face of pushback from traditionalists in the industry. This led to Australian trucking fleets comprised of vehicles with the latest, safest technology except for their braking systems, which remained largely unchanged since the 1960s. This led to countless issues around ensuring brake compatibility within trucking operations.
A major incident on the Princes Highway at Batemans Bay in New South Wales served as a catalyst for change to the way braking regulation would be formulated. The tanker crash resulted in a number of deaths and led to a detailed investigation of the incident. At the end of the process it was the coroner who asked why stability control was not mandatory on vehicles when the consequences of a loss of stability was so tragic.
As a result, the NSW Environmental Protection Agency made it mandatory for all vehicles carrying dangerous goods in the state to be fitted with stability control. This rule meant that just about any dangerous goods carrying vehicle had to fit some form of stability control, as they would almost inevitably pass through NSW at some point.
This change has prompted those considering the latest iteration of braking standards to finally get on board with EBS. The next truck braking rule change to ADR 35/06 will see stability control starting to be fitted to all heavy trucks from November 2020 in a number of stages. The rule change for trailers is much sooner with ADR 38/05 requiring stability control on all new trailers from November this year.