Talking Turkey About Trucking

Taking Drugs

There is a drug problem in the trucking industry and it’s about time we started taking it seriously. If the trucking industry doesn’t take the bull by the horns, as a whole, then the ongoing public perception of ‘drug crazed truckies’ will continue and the road authorities will be able to retain the right to bag truckies.



We have the tools, drug testing equipment is available to all operators. Now, the Fair Work Commission has ruled on the right of a truck operator to terminate the employment of a truck driver for failing a drug test. In the case on which the decision was upheld, the driver is alleged to have smoked one joint over a weekend before the test took place and proved positive.



The test results showed the driver to have a level of cannabinoids in the bloodstream above 15 ug/L, the permitted threshold. It was decided this was sufficient reason for dismissal after the saliva test proved positive. The driver had previously been made aware of company policies requiring no drug use, which could compromise safety.



Saliva testing has become more common in recent years and a clause covering the issue is often included in employment contracts. The problem is the perception, on the part of the drivers, the words in the contract are the employer covering themselves in case of an incident, rather than genuinely trying to drive drugs out of the industry.



Perhaps we should take something out of the US trucking industry’s ideas about drug taking, where it is also a major issue, especially in the era of a driver shortage. Talking at the ATA Convention a few years ago, Don Osterberg, SVP Safety and Security at US trucking giant Schneider National told us saliva testing was an inexact science.



His company have gone over to hair follicle testing for drugs. This gives the employer a complete picture of the driver’s drug use, traces of drugs remain in the hair sample like age rings in trees, giving evidence of when and what was taken.



If we really are serious about driving drugs out of the industry, then perhaps we should look at developing a scheme, like this, which can be used by the whole industry and get our drivers to clean up their act.



Objections will be raised about the rules of employment impinging on people’s rights to do as they please in their own time. Firstly, it is the safety of the driver and other road users we are talking about here. Secondly, the amount of impairment from weekend drug use can be demonstrated in simulations. Thirdly, the public need to see trucking genuinely throwing drug use out of the industry, if we need their support in getting the kinds of reforms needed to improve life on the road.



If we don’t do something the government of NSW will soon be jumping on the revenue raising bandwagon and denigrating the trucking industry in the media, at the same time. They have announced two new dedicated drug testing vehicles in the state’s West and committed to tripling roadside drug tests up to 97,000 by 2017.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Both Sides of the Coin

Sitting at the ALC Safety Summit this week demonstrated to me a disconnect going on in the road transport industry. As with many problems in the trucking industry today, the core of the issue is communication, the message isn’t getting all the way down the chain. Read more

Talking Turkey About Trucking

When is a defect not a defect?

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!

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Prepare to change the road user charge

It looks like the game is up, the way trucks pay their way for the use of the country’s roads will change. For the trucking industry this is going to be a massive shock. The way we price jobs, the entire business model for some tasks will be brought into question.



Jay Weatherill, the South Australian Premier has set the cat among the pigeons this week by calling for the introduction of mass/distance/location charging for trucks on the highway.



“Under this plan, State-based registration and Federal-based fuel-excise charges are replaced by a charging system based on mass, distance and location, a system that reflects actual use of the road network,” said Weatherill. “The Federal Government then reinvests the revenue it earns from these charges into better planned and coordinated road infrastructure.



“Private sector investment could be leveraged into the road network, and the Productivity Commission raised this possibility as far back as 2006. In order to fully explore and test this proposition, South Australia would be willing to trial different elements of heavy-vehicle road-user charging. The intelligence and data we collect across our State would then inform the introduction of a national charging scheme.



“Such a scheme has the potential to result in better roads, with users paying for the roads they’re actually using and the roads that can support higher-productivity freight vehicles.”



He will be heading into the next COAG meeting with this proposal in his back pocket. Judging by the reaction from stakeholders, there is a good deal of backing for this proposal from both government agencies and the top end of town, the logistics specialists.



The trucking industry does moan and complain constantly about the current system for setting the level of rego charges, but is happy to take the fuel tax credit. However, the disruption we can expect if a mass/distance/location charging system comes along is going to make us look at costs in a completely different way.



The argument for the change in charging is rational and should improve productivity. The trucks which cause the most road wear will be paying the most each year and, in a logical world, the prices these operators can charge should increase to compensate.



In the Australian Logistics Council’s reaction to Weatherill’s speech at the National Press Club, Managing Director, Michael Kilgariff, talks about the estimate, a one per cent improvement in productivity yields a $2 billion a year benefit to the Australian economy.



The figures appear compelling at a countrywide level but will be disruptive at the level of the transport operator. Plus, there is the fact there will have to be a way of recording the mass/distance/location of each truck in place, whether paper or electronic.



Is there any point in fighting the introduction of a new road user charging regime? Probably not. It’s introduction is looking increasingly inevitable. Surely, the way to go for the trucking industry is to accept the possibility, get involved in the development process and make its introduction happen with the minimum of disruption to the industry.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Truck drivers and respect

My editorial, ‘Just a Thought’ in the latest issue of Diesel Magazine seems to have hit a nerve. There has been a lot of reaction to my call for a campaign to improve the public perception of drivers in the trucking industry. The negative stereotype of trucking means we are hamstrung when lobbying to get improvements for our industry.



This week has seen a prime example of just I was talking about, with well known writer Nikki Gemmell using her column in The Australian to lay out all of her misconceptions and prejudices about the truck driving community.



Nikki has written a number of well received novels tackling difficult issues about which she feels strongly and thinks deeply. However, when it comes to truckies, it all comes down to talking about ‘bully boys’, ‘mad truckie’ and ‘demented tactics’. She continues to stereotype us by mentioning the use of ice and trucks driving over the speed limit.



Trucking people’s first reaction is to point out how she is wrong. Her speedo probably reads 100 at 94 km/h, she insists on traveling in the middle lane at this speed and, apparently, only has two points left on her license, why?



To react in this way is to miss the point. If we just need to convert Ms Gemmell, just get her to ride in the passenger seat of a truck for a couple of days and she will understand just what is going on. The fact is, Nikki’s article is just an indicator of what is going on in the heads of car drivers around our trucks, and informing their voting decisions on transport issues.



The need to change this whole way of thinking is a massive issue for everyone involved in the trucking industry. We need the general public to respect trucks and truckies, to understand the issues involved in traveling on the same road as a truck. This is not going to be easy, real respect has to be earned.



We need to work hard on the media front. The only stories which make it onto the daily news are negative ones of ice addicted nut-jobs. When they occur, there is not a credible source, in which the TV crews are interested, able to grab some screen time and put the opposite point of view in an easy-to-understand and entertaining way.



We do have some who are doing their very best, like Rod Hannifey who sometimes gets on TV and manages to sound sensible and genuinely committed to road safety around trucks. He is out there, doing it all on his own, with little or no institutional support busting a gut to balance the story.



The trucking industry does have the ATA Safety Truck, which does sterling work in getting the young people coming through, on board with a positive trucking image. The message is good, but another lone voice in the wilderness.



These initiatives are all well and good, well intentioned and effective on a small scale. How are we going to turn around the millions of Nikki Gemmells out there? We need a way for trucking to get the message out, and improve road practice by getting rid of the rogues, which cuts through the fog of ignorance which surrounds us. Any ideas? Email me at

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Head in the sand

There are developments in road transport we need to start thinking about now, or it may be too late. Most people are now aware of the phenomenon of Uber and the effect it is having on the taxi industry. The Uber concept started gaining traction very fast, as soon as it arrived in Australia and was disrupting taxi companies within a few months of its first launch here.



Brendan Richards from road transport consultants, Ferrier Hodgson, has been talking about the road transport and logistics industry needing to be aware of the ‘uberfication’ of the transport industry. This is not idle speculation, there is already movement from Uber and some other similar enterprises, looking into introducing the concept into goods transport.



The road transport industry’s big players are merrily building bigger and better facilities around Australia to handle the massive boom in local delivery, anticipated as a direct result of the phenomenal growth in online shopping and commerce.



The population is choosing to do more and more of its buying online and, incumbent with this, is the growing expectation of next day, or even same day, delivery of bought items. This is what the big players are gearing up for, developing ever more sophisticated systems with better and more efficient express delivery coverage.



This involves massive capital expenditure, all of which has to be paid for. It is not just the real estate, the vehicles and the personnel, it is also the massive databases and control systems needed to make the whole edifice work and get the goods to the consumer ASAP. None of this comes cheap.



Richards points out how different the current situation is from just a few years ago. He quotes a study by Acquity Group, which found 64 per cent of those surveyed would pay a premium for faster delivery, but also 75 per cent would be open to receiving those goods from a third party. He points out this third party could be Uber.



The ubiquity of the smart phone in our society means people can get fast delivery, tracking, easy payment options, low prices and the ability to rate the service in real time, all from a few taps of the finger onto their phone.



A number of these app based businesses are already in the game. Uber already works with bike couriers in New York and has a cargo division now functioning in Hong Kong. Operations mimicing Uber are using a very similar smartphone based system for owners of small vans in a few countries.



A business called Postmates is growing fast in the US, as it connects couriers with loads. Brendan Richards tells us the business took 116 weeks to reach its first 500,000 deliveries, 20 to achieve its next 500,000 and just ten weeks to get another half a million. That is astronomical growth in any business, not just freight transport.



New ideas like these are coming and when they arrive the change will be rapid. The taxi industry ignored Uber at first and is now playing catch up. The most likely solution is going to see taxi businesses becoming more like Uber and not the other way round.



For the road transport industry the smart phone app revolution is a little farther over the horizon, but it is coming fast. There will be no ‘head in the sand’ option for those involved in small local deliveries. Current rates and practices may not be quite as secure as they appear right now. Pre-warned is pre-armed.


Brendan Richards on Uberfication.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Ending the old boys club

The trucking industry needs to get with the program and bring in fresh and diverse new blood in order to head into the future. The nature of the trucking industry is changing and society around the industry is also changing, fast. Read more

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Another year, another Austrans

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. Read more

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Watching Big Brother

A recent announcement from the National Transport Commission may be of concern to the smaller trucking operators out there. One of the items in the forward program for the NTC talks about bringing in rules for compulsory telematics for trucking operators.


Firstly, let’s throw out all of the arguments about big brother watching us issues. Yes, they are watching us (they have been for years!) and it is not an invasion of privacy or an infringement of our human rights, it’s a way of getting better data and working towards a safer industry which complies with the rules. This is not a bad thing.


Secondly, let’s look at some long term trends in the trucking industry itself. The average size of a trucking fleet is getting larger and the number of operators is decreasing. The small guys are disappearing and the big guys are getting bigger. One of the factors in this shift is the cost of compliance with many of the new rules and regulations coming in. Compliance costs per truck are less when you have a thousand than they are when you have five, more compliance equals bigger fleets.


Not surprisingly, the big end of town is behind the push for compulsory telematics now. For these operators the systems are already in place which would make them compliant and the added cost of compulsory fitment would only be a small increment. Additionally, buying black boxes for a thousand trucks will be much cheaper per unit than for five.


There is nothing wrong with telematics per se. The problem for the smaller operator is the way the telematics systems have been developed, as a result of the way the regulations have been written. The solutions which have been found involve the black box in the truck, the interface with the driver and then the back room systems needed to process the data to ensure compliance with regulations and record keeping requirements.


All of this makes the barrier to entry in the real world quite high for small operator. The equation will continue to do its work, more telematics means fewer small operators. Is this a bad thing? Perhaps not, but the Australian trucking industry has maintained its innovative drive due to its diversity. We lead the world in some areas and it’s been operators of all sizes who have pushed through change.


Compulsory telematics could be simpler for us all if there was a bit more innovative thinking in the system’s development.The costs don’t need to be so high.


Most truck drivers are walking around with a device with more computing power than NASA’s Apollo program in their pockets. Where are the smart ideas, utilising the smartphone as part of a cleverer and leaner telematics system? Surely, the innovative Aussie can come up with a secure way to monitor everything we need to monitor, which won’t break the bank for the small guys?

Talking Turkey About Trucking

A good news story

Far be it for me to use a couple of stories in the news this week to turn bad news into good news for the trucking industry, but if the information is correct we can pat ourselves on the back. In fact, both stories are painted as bad news and both are designed make us fearful of going out on the roads of Australia.



The first, from a week ago is a piece of news put out by, one of our favourites, Roads and Maritime Services in NSW. It’s all about a raid carried out by the RMS at a Western Sydney DC as part of the current Austrans campaign. The raid was concentrating on vehicle compliance and load restraint, the usual suspects.



188 trucks were examined and 56 drivers were breath and drug tested. As a result one driver was found to have taken drugs. This was a serious offence, the Victorian driver tested positive for methamphetamine and prohibited from driving for 24 hours, and can expect a summons in the mail.



“To have Joint Traffic Taskforce Officers identify trucks not loaded and restrained correctly, tampered to allow speeds of more than 100km/h, and one driver testing positive to drugs, shows the worth of our work in preventing heavy vehicle related crashes on our roads,” said John Hartley, NSW Traffic and Highway Patrol Command’s Assistant Commissioner.



Now, let’s compare this to a report this week in the Sunshine Coast Daily in Queensland. The headline says it all, ‘Drug driving shame: One in two drivers test positive’. This is the result of a drug driving blitz carried out on a Friday afternoon at Kawana on the Sunshine Coast.



41 drivers were tested for drugs and 18 of them tested positive for drugs. This is just a snapshot, but the Queensland Police reckon this is a growing problem. A project called the Statewide Roadside Drug Testing Deployment Project has been put together to understand the issue.



“The message about drink driving has been well accepted by the community, that if you consume alcohol, you don’t drive, but unfortunately people are making poor lifestyle choices and that is translating across to a willingness to drive while consuming drugs,” said Senior Sergeant Panoho, who ran the testing. “This isn’t just a policing issue. It’s a whole community issue.”



Everyone will agree, even one person driving under the influence of drugs is unacceptable. What is of concern to the trucking industry, however, is the way the drug driving issue gets reported. We get these shock horror TV reports of drug crazed truckies causing mayhem on the roads. What about the real problem? Drug taking and driving in the wider community is clearly much, much worse than it is in the trucking community.



It would seem the humble truckie should be fearful of going out on the highway filled with drug crazed car drivers!