Another year, another Austrans

Talking Turkey About Trucking

It has become a regular feature at this time of year, the nationwide blitz by roadside enforcement going through trucks with a fine tooth comb and pinging drivers and operators for defects and offences. This year’s event has just finished and the numbers are in.

Now, we just have to wait for the spin doctors to digest these figures and come up with a story about the results. We can be pretty certain the numbers will be shown to prove the regulator publishing them has done a fantastic job in controlling the trucking industry. The sheer number of checks will be used to demonstrate what a thorough job has been done.

Perhaps some headline numbers will be picked out to show us just how badly behaved truck drivers are out on the highway. The narrative for many is always about reinforcing the unfair stereotypes of the drug crazed truckie running too fast and too heavy. The poorly maintained trucks jeopardising the innocent general public driving their cars on the nation’s roads.

A rational view of the figures would not be dramatic enough to make a good story. Why let statistics get in the way of a good yarn?

In fact, it doesn’t look too bad at all, when you peruse the numbers. Overall, there were 74,511 interceptions of vehicles on the road. This is nearly 20,000 down on last year. This would suggest a fall in productivity on the part of roadside enforcement.

In those checks, 7739 defects, or related items, were found. This is down dramatically from last year’s total of 13,525. This must be a result of improved maintenance practice in the trucking industry, but we can be sure it will be presented as resulting from harsher enforcement by the authorities, particularly in NSW.

Many results show a downward trend. Speed offences, non-wearing of seat belts, illegal mobile phone use, dangerous goods offences, permit breaches and dimension breaches are all down over the period from 2010 to this year. This result is very unlikely to see the light of day in the general media.

Other results, while not good, don’t warrant the kind of headlines the trucking industry has had to deal with this year. The supposed epidemic of drug use in truck drivers resulted in 154 positive tests out of the 7,5431 conducted. This tells us there is a problem, but it’s an issue in one small subset of the truck driver population, not rife on the open highway, as has been portrayed on tabloid TV.

The 36 positive alcohol tests, out of the 51,393 carried out tells suggests alcohol is not a problem. It would be very educational for the same number of tests to be carried out on the car driving population, and the numbers published alongside these results for drink and drugs. That’s not going to happen.

In terms of the fatigue laws, the truck driving community is becoming better behaved on all counts apart from failing to carry a work diary (281 offenders) and failure to carry accreditation documents (48). In all other categories of fatigue breaches the number are down. Apart from one, the only one where it is not the driver’s offence, where the offence was committed by another party under chain of responsibility. This number jumped from 116 in 2014 to double at 238 this time around.

Is there a good story to tell here? Yes, on a number of counts. Are there areas for concern? Of course, we always need to get better. Will these results be used to demonstrate some positives about trucking? The answer is a resounding NO!