Talking Turkey About Trucking

Keep moving forward

I have been pleasantly surprised by the feedback we have received to a story in the November/December issue of Diesel. Normally, the amount of feedback is relatively low and limited to people annoyed when you get their name wrong or caption them wrongly in a photo.

 

This time it’s different. The story which got people talking was looking back to the events of 25 years ago and the fall out from the Grafton crash, when the trucking industry was faced with a major crackdown and draconian new rules to improve safety on the highways.

 

People are talking about what they were doing at the time, how they got involved with the campaign to save the trucking industry they knew and loved. The nostalgia about the late eighties also provoked some thoughts about parallels between then and now. Have we learned our lessons? Could something similar happen again?

 

There is a certain amount of pride from those involved at the time in the achievements realised in a period where the need to find a solution was so urgent. There is also a perception about how far we have come since those days, but also about how far we still have to go.

 

One correspondent looked at the difference between the equipment used in the trucking industry back in 1989 compared to the sophistication available to us now. If the trucking industry’s professionalism and community engagement had kept pace with these technical developments, we would be in a much better position than we are now.

 

The kind of equipment which could be out there on our road would mean lives could be saved every year. The trucking industry is being dragged slowly into the 21st century. There is a suite of safety features available on just about every truck sold in Australia but not many people tick the option boxes for additional safety systems.

 

Our regulators don’t help much either. Inconsistency and state differences mean we are fighting to be compliant, rather than safe. It is still possible to put a truck and trailer combination out on the road, which is compliant but not safe.

 

The moral of the story seems to be, it is possible to make and see real change if you put your mind to it. The real improvements made by those pioneers 25 years ago is proof it can be done if you want or need it to happen.

 

What is also clear about a quarter of a century ago, is the genuine fears people at the time had for the future of the trucking industry. This fear was a considerable spur.

 

It is possible to effect change and make the world a better place to live in by improving behaviours and equipment in the trucking industry. Progress will be made, one way or another, but it will always be better if it is driven by the trucking industry and not forced on us by a government panicked by some horrific event into being seen to crack down on truckies.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Pulling in the same direction

Quite often when an issue raises its ugly head for the trucking industry, a clear consensus emerges quite quickly. Although there may be nuanced differences between the positions taken by the various stakeholders, the general good is recognised and the various spokespeople for organisations and associations take a fairly similar line.

 

If there is no clear consensus between all of those involved and associated with road transport, there is little hope of us getting our voice heard. The trucking industry faces a number of implacable foes on the policy and PR front and cannot afford a disunited message. Any sign of weakness is all that is needed for organisations like the RMS et al, the Greens, anti-truck community groups, the general public and, of course, A Current Affair to stick the boot in.

 

Road transport is not like the farming industry, there is not a well stocked well of sympathetic goodwill towards the hard working truckie and their problems. For many the truckies are the problem. We need all of the stake holders involved with the trucking game to sing from the same, or similar, hymn sheet, otherwise the interests of trucking community, as a whole, will be adversely effected.

 

One area where this kind of disunity is obvious is the debate about roadworthiness for trucks. It is an issue we come back to again and again, and again, but there is a process in hand which a disunited truck community will have no chance of influencing, without speaking with one voice.

 

The events in Mona Vale were a catalyst highlighting a long term issue and one which does need a solution. It just needs a solution we can live with and not some knee jerk solution from the regulators. This is where a single voice comes in useful.

 

Instead we have a side issue which won’t derail the changes, but will take the focus away from getting the best result for the trucking industry.

 

Introducing the concept of extending the chain of responsibility to truck maintenance standards doesn’t sound like a bad idea at first glance. There is a COR system already there, however ineffective, and rule changes could bring the condition of the truck itself under the umbrella of COR.

 

However, just let this concept run for a bit and a few problems start to emerge. These problems are those which will effect those closest to the trucking industry, our customers and suppliers. The implications for them mean they are unlikely to support the inclusion of truck maintenance into COR.

 

Look at it from the point of view of the suppliers of truck maintenance or modification services. To avoid prosecution under COR they are going to have to add a long list of conditions to any invoice for any job, list any unresolved defects every time they work on a vehicle. The result is a legal and paperwork nightmare, paid for by higher charges from the supplier. It will form a wedge between trucking operator and supplier.

 

From the customer’s point of view the legal minefield of COR gets a lot more complex when maintenance is involved. They have some control over loading and unloading times, as well as the freight schedule. They can provide facilities to help drivers control fatigue. What they can’t do is go through a truck and trailers’ maintenance history and check if all of the jobs have been done before releasing a load.

 

Yes, COR for maintenance would be nice, but unlikely to get up. Wouldn’t it be better to come to an effective compromise which ensures improved maintenance outcomes for the trucking industry. A workable practical solution would be possible if everyone involved in the transport industry talked to the project developing the solution with one voice (or a selection of similar voices). The danger, in the current situation, is a solution will be found with which no-one is happy.

 

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Getting passionate

Attending the ATA/ARTSA TMC in Melbourne this week was an interesting experience with some aspects of the event giving us hope for the future and others, more depressingly, going over issues which come around every time and don’t look like getting any better in the foreseeable future. Read more

Talking Turkey About Trucking

A dangerous industry

Two recent statistical releases have served to remind us all, what a dangerous industry trucking is. It’s not that those who work in the industry don’t know it is dangerous out there on the highway, it’s just we become blasé about it and it isn’t always front of mind.

 

The stats are in and the very nature of the industry means it is intrinsically dangerous. We can try as hard as we like but many of the 600,000 people working in the industry are going to be out there on the public highway dealing with low skilled drivers in other vehicles, poorly maintained roads and unpredictable human beings.

 

The first set of figures are from a Life Insurance Finder survey which puts transport, postal and warehousing together and reckons its the deadliest industry sector in which to work, with 65 deaths per year. The industry also has a high level of injuries on an annual basis, with 8,450 injuries, or 1.4 per cent of everyone in the industry reporting an injury.

 

Only manufacturing comes close, with 1.8 per cent getting injured, but the fatality rate is much lower with only 18 deaths out of a total workforce close to 1 million.

 

The industry doesn’t just kill people working in it. Because we are out on the public highway, the public are also involved in the statistics. According to the latest figures from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, during the 12 months to the end of June 2014, 213 people died from 192 fatal crashes involving heavy trucks or buses. This includes 116 from 105 crashes involving articulated vehicles, down 6.1 per cent over the past three years.

 

More concerning are the heavy rigid fatality figures which have been creeping up in recent years. 89 deaths from 79 crashes involving heavy rigid trucks, this is 2.6 per cent up on last year and contributed to a 9.2 per cent increase in deaths involving heavy rigids in the past three years.

 

Those working in the industry need to know, in their own minds, this is a dangerous place to work. Running these kinds of figures by them can, perhaps, help to bring home the reality. Out on the highway, or in the warehouse, the day to day life does involve risk but we tend to play it down, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

 

This is OK until something does happen. In trucking, we are dealing with heavy objects moving at high speeds. When something happens it can often be deadly. It’s not like the shop assistant who gets the till wrong, or the chef who doesn’t add enough seasoning, this is serious, people die out there. Lot’s of them!

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Making the chain

An operator commented to me this week about how he thought the trucking industry was ready for the future, but his customers weren’t. They still expect the world to go on as it has in the past, with cheap rates and operators queueing up for their work and being as flexible as possible to keep the work when they get it. Read more

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Zero Tolerance

The past few weeks have seen a number of events to make us feel good and paint the trucking industry in a positive light. The Scania Truck Driver Competition rewards drivers who do the right thing in a professional and skillful manner. The Apprentice of the Year is another young professional making their way in the industry.

 

Meanwhile, Toll put, what they call, the safest tanker set on the road in South Australia, being the responsible professional operation they clearly are. Other operations and organisations take a positive view and work to improve safety, efficiency and the trucking industry’s image to the general public.

 

Then some cowboy comes along and ruins the whole image. It’s not just the accidents where a truck is involved and poor maintenance, breaking fatigue laws or taking drugs is involved. There are also the daily smaller events with a truckie showing unnecessary aggression towards a car driver, abusing some poor schmuck who is just doing their job in the supply chain or just being inconsiderate to the rest of society.

 

The trucking industry is its own worse enemy. The problem is in our midst yet we tolerate others in the industry who are making us, as a whole, look bad. The worst offenders are known to everyone but we turn a blind eye to the major issues. The wrongdoers can get away with behaviour which makes us all look worse, because we do not fight against it at every opportunity.

 

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,” is a quote from Edmund Burke, an Irish politician from the 18th century. However, it rings very true for a modern trucking industry on the other side of the world.

 

There is a strong community spirit within trucking and this stops us from dobbing in the worst offenders. A shortage of drivers who are good operators means we make allowances for unsavoury behaviour in the workforce.

 

Every gathering of trucking folk ends up with people telling war stories of getting away with bad behaviour, but we cannot afford to tolerate it any longer. The world has changed and our ability to monitor safety and behaviours has now reached a point where we have no excuse. With GPS monitoring and text alerts of incidents, we cannot claim a lack of knowledge.

 

Perhaps it’s time for the trucking industry, as a whole, to man up and take a stand against the cowboys.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

No load, high risk

This is just a small part of the presentation by Professor Mark Stevenson, Director of the Monash University Accident Research Centre in a talk to Federal MPs and Senators at Parliament House during the recent Freight Week campaign. The good professor highlights a major issue for the trucking industry which many people know about, but which is studiously ignored.

 

His talk on the safety issues surrounding trucking highlighted a number of central issues. There is a skill shortage and using inexperienced drivers triples the risk of a crash. ABS and cruise control both reduce the risk of an accident. You can also triple the risk of a crash by driving between midnight and 6 am.

 

Now, all of these are known risk factors and we are doing something about them. New fatigue laws have decreased overnight driving out on the open highway. ABS is coming in by dribs and drabs, and NSW are mandating stability control for dangerous goods in the future. The skill shortage is a tricky one, cleaning up the industry’s image and engaging properly with the community is our only hope there.

 

It’s the issue of the risks associated with empty running which are on my mind today. This is something so obvious, it’s beggars belief so little has been done to improve safety outcomes in the past twenty years. There is a simple solution which costs little and has been available for a long time, but has never been mandated up to now.

 

Recent changes in brake regulations does mean we are likely to see some form of load sensing fitted to most new trailers in the future. That leaves thousands of older dumb trailers out there on the road as we speak.

 

Anyone with experience of driving any kind of combination knows just how unpredictable an unladen trailer can be. Over the years drivers learn to compensate for this erratic behaviour and try and avoid the long black skid marks dotted along our highways. A skilled driver will almost always be in control in those situations and can get by without any load sensing. However, spend more then five minutes at a busy intersection in a freight area and you will soon see some trailer brakes locking up.

 

At the same time, we are being told about the increasing number of lower skilled drivers on our roads. This means the risks are increasing. Luckily for the other road users, many of the less experienced drivers work in the bigger fleets who have adopted safer trailer braking technologies to compensate for the lower skill levels.

 

There are still a lot of flat top trailers out there with drum brakes, without slack adjusters, which can be deadly in the wrong hands. Especially when empty.

 

In service brake testing concentrates on axle group braking and not how the combination is set up. Luckily, we do have some very experienced people working on our trucks and trailers who can set up a combination which will behave safely without all of the safety systems fitted, but surely we are running an undue risk by not mandating load sensing, at least, to ensure fewer mistakes are made.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

It’s still the infrastructure

Following on from looking at one example of a piece of infrastructure failing to meet a decent standard and limiting economic activity, the Peak Downs Highway, this week the ridiculous political infighting which blights infrastructure spending rears its ugly head. Meanwhile, our roads continue to crumble and road improvements take longer and longer.

 

Earlier in the week the decision by the Victorian Labor Party to consider not honouring future infrastructure spending commitments by the current Coalition Government in the state was announced. They may not build the second stage of the East West link which will vastly improve access across the city of Melbourne, and, importantly, offer an alternative crossing of the Yarra River for freight traffic

 

“The Victorian Transport Association has remained supportive of the delivery of East West Link Stage 1, but we know that this is only the first step,” said Neil Chambers, VTA CEO, after the announcement. “It is imperative that further East West Link connections to the Port of Melbourne precinct and the M80 are delivered if the State is to secure its long term economic vitality.

 

“Not only will East West Link reduce congestion and improve living standards, it will also boost the State’s interstate and international competitiveness, drive productivity and stimulate economic activity.”

 

This is a direct threat to the viability of economic growth in the area. They are playing politics with the future of the trucking industry. The first stage of the East West project will go ahead and solve some major commuting nightmares for the car driving public, but without the second stage the Victorian trucking community is left with an ongoing problem.

 

Access in and out of the port area, and across the city, is limited by the lack of an alternative to the Westgate Bridge or the Monash Freeway. Other routes in the area have created an ongoing battle between the local residents in Yarraville and Maribyrnong, and trucking companies. Creating more negative publicity for trucking and ongoing resentment.

 

This East West link is just one of many projects, dependent on both Federal and State funding, around Australia which are vulnerable to this kind of infighting between politicians and parties trying to get an edge in an upcoming election.

 

There’s the West Connex and North Connex in Sydney, both of which will enable freight traffic to grow without the city grinding to a halt caused by congestion. There’s the duplication of the Pacific Highway, promised back in 1989 and slated to be completed by 2020, as long as the politicians don’t use it as a target.

 

In South Australia, funding for the ongoing South Road improvement was in doubt as a squabble between the State Labor Government and the Federal Coalition Government lingers on. Meanwhile, congestion as a result of the project continues.

 

In the West, the Gateway WA and Freight Link projects are vital to keep the freight flowing in and out of the port and industrial areas. Meanwhile, the Great Northern Highway disintegrates under the pressure of a constant flow of oversize loads into the Pilbara, as the government is accused of weaselling out of a commitment to improve it.

 

The future prospects of the trucking industry remains in the hands of politicians who are not voted in by truckies, but by the car driving public who see trucks as a menace. Couple this with a short election cycle where, once in power, a state government will spend the next three years campaigning for re-election and you have a recipe for uncertainty in spending and a trucking industry somewhere near the bottom of the spending priority list.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

It’s the infrastructure, stupid

This week Diesel News found itself test driving a truck on the Peak Downs Highway from Emerald to Mackay in Central Queensland. This stretch of road seems to be a glaring example of exactly what is wrong with infrastructure in Australia and how these issues can limit future economic growth.

 

The Peak Downs Highway is not particularly long, just a few hundred kilometres. It runs South-West from the coastal city of Mackay into a hinterland, formerly known as an agricultural region. The situation changed with the start of substantial coal mining in the area as the resources boom took hold in Australia.

 

Queensland Rail developed a rail infrastructure to haul the millions of tonnes of coal being produced down from the plateau around Moranbah and Dysart. This bulk coal handling rail system gets the bulk product down to the coast, to the loading terminals and onto the queuing ships.

 

However, the massive amount of materials and equipment needed to make the coal industry happen did not make its way up to the coalfields on rail, it came by road, the Peak Downs Highway, to be exact. When the boom started the road was inadequate for the task at hand, many years later, and on the evidence of this week’s trip, it is still inadequate for the task.

 

Sections of highway around the actual mine sites themselves have clearly been substantially modernised. Presumably this is at the mining companies’ own expense. In areas where road spending is the responsibility of the state or local council, the road can be said to be, at best, very ordinary.

 

Narrow, and ageing, bitumen with very little run-off at the side of the road, features a few scattered overtaking lanes. The major incline, where the road drops from the plateau down to the coastal plain between Nebo and Mackay has a good road surface but is a steep grade with tight, narrow bends.

 

Last year, the RACQ commissioned an Australian Road Assessment Program (AusRAP) study of the Peak Downs. The road was assessed as being just a one or two stars (out of a possible five) for over 50 per cent of its length, with only one percent rated four stars.

 

“The Peak Downs Highway is the key route linking Mackay to the mines and yet more than half of it is well below an acceptable safety standard, no better than that on roads in developing countries,” said Greg Miszkowycz, the RACQ Senior Traffic and Safety Engineer, at the time.

 

The road is a B-double route, but that’s it. The sheer difficulty of getting freight from A to B in this area places a burden on the economics of running a business in the coal fields. The congestion and confusion when a wide load of up to eight metres comes through is a clear illustration of the limitation the infrastructure provides. All freight stops as the load weaves its way slowly along the highway.

 

There has been a lot of talk about infrastructure spending in the last year or so. The question we need to ask is just how effective the new money will be? The neglect of infrastructure spending over the previous decades means there are hundreds of Peak Downs Highways all over the country. Can we afford even a band aid for all of them, or are we going to see economic growth stymied, just at the point when we need it to kick in?

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Coming into the 21st century

This week I will have to trail down to my local Queensland Transport and Main Roads office and hand in my large unwieldy log book (sorry, work diary!) and pay another $20 for a new, redesigned one with a different layout and an unfamiliar look.

 

Basically, I will be swapping one outdated and oversized book for another. Nothing will change, except unfamiliarity might mean I will make some simple mistake when filling in the book and get pinged for the privilege. This will be to the delight of the enforcement officer and reinforce all of those uncalled-for negative stereotypes we have about roadside enforcement.

 

Next to my logbook I will have my phone. This is a handy sized piece of equipment with more computing power than was used to land man on the moon. It is nice and compact, easy to use, it knows exactly my whereabouts at all times and it has a clock.

 

It is also secure, my bank is willing to let me make transactions on it, transferring funds across the world. There are also millions of people all around the world who are designing ever more clever apps for it to help me organise my life, keep up with friends and also post stuff on this very website.

 

However, it is beyond the capability of the technology and way beyond the knowledge of the app designers to come up with a simple to use way of recording my working and travelling time in a truck, which can also be regarded as a legal document.

 

On the other hand, there are a queue of electronic technology companies lining up to provide me with a box in the cab which will securely record my every move and provide a foolproof way of ensuring I keep my truck driving well within the hours rules, while also giving the aforementioned enforcement officer an opportunity to fine me for something trivial, from the comfort of his own desk.

 

So, what is it these technology providers know, which the likes of Samsung, Apple, Sony and Microsoft can’t manage? Why do we have to put even more little boxes in our cabins to suit yet another set of difficult, Australia only, specifications? I might as well be carrying around a laptop sized book, as paying for yet another piece of, soon to be, redundant technology to be fitted onto the truck.

 

Is it all too hard? Some kind of transponder in the cabin, similar to the chip in your pay wave credit card could surely register when I get into the truck. A similar chip on my license could also identify me as being there. Surely an app on my phone could record and transmit all the other relevant information in a way I can’t tamper with.

 

All this information can be sent over the airwaves to the authorities. They can receive an alert when I have exceeded my hours. Most importantly, I have my phone with me anyway.

 

The world has changed. Maybe it’s about time someone told the NHVR, NTC and the State Road Authorities we are now in the 21st century and there is such a thing as a smart phone. We all have our smart phones, now we need some smart regulations.