Time to re­solve dif­fer­ences

Big Rigs - - NEWS - LOB­BY­IST STEVE SHEARER SA Road Trans­port As­so­ci­a­tion Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor

A MA­JOR chal­lenge fac­ing gov­ern­ments in re­la­tion to the ef­fec­tive reg­u­la­tion and over­sight of the truck­ing in­dus­try is to move into the new world with new think­ing and new ap­proaches to en­sur­ing that the truck­ing in­dus­try is safe first and fore­most, while also be­ing ef­fi­cient and pro­duc­tive in per­form­ing its vi­tal role in un­der­pin­ning Aus­tralians’ daily life­style and the econ­omy.

Twenty-four years ago when I started work­ing with the in­dus­try through the South Aus­tralian Road Trans­port As­so­ci­a­tion, things were very dif­fer­ent from to­day. We now have a far safer fleet of gen­er­ally larger trucks that are far more pro­duc­tive. The com­mu­nity at­ti­tudes to­wards truck­ing, while still not rat­ing us as their most favourite in­dus­try, are far bet­ter es­pe­cially in South Aus­tralia largely be­cause we have worked very hard and ef­fec­tively to im­prove the me­dia’s un­der­stand­ing of the re­al­i­ties of truck­ing and its high safety record, con­trary to the rub­bish ped­dled by the TWU. Sure there is still room for im­prove­ment and the data clearly shows that im­prove­ment is continuing.

Com­mit­ted to safety

FOR some 22 years I have chaired monthly meet­ings of the SA Law En­force­ment Li­ai­son Group which I set up with the then Se­nior Sergeant of the SA Po­lice Heavy Ve­hi­cle En­force­ment Unit. DPTI and Safework at­tended and oc­ca­sion­ally the TWU showed up when they wanted to gripe about some­thing. The rest of us were com­mit­ted and met ev­ery month to dis­cuss the safety is­sues out there on the road and what needed to be done to im­prove it. We also dis­cussed is­sues with some of­fi­cers and the need to im­prove their un­der­stand­ing of the re­al­i­ties.

Over time the group has helped achieve an enor­mous im­prove­ment in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween en­force­ment of­fi­cers and the in­dus­try and also in the com­pli­ance and safety out­comes.

Through the very close work­ing re­la­tion­ship that trans­port as­so­ci­a­tion de­vel­oped with the au­thor­i­ties over the past 24 years, we got the po­lice to start stress­ing in all their me­dia com­ments about the in­dus­try, af­ter blitzes and crashes, that the vast bulk of the in­dus­try is safe and it’s only a small re­cal­ci­trant mi­nor­ity that are a con­cern. Even bet­ter, af­ter years of per­sis­tent but jus­ti­fied pres­sure, some­thing at which the as­so­ci­a­tion ex­cels as we main­tain our var­i­ous cam­paigns for what’s right for as long as it takes, we ac­tu­ally had the SA Govern­ment do the re­search and then an­nounce jointly with us that in 80 per cent of the fa­tal crashes with other ve­hi­cles it is the other drive who was at fault, as a mi­nor­ity of mo­torists do re­ally stupid things around trucks.

These re­sults were re­peated in a sec­ond govern­ment study sev­eral years later and they have been re­peated around the coun­try.

The in­dus­try now has a far higher per­cent­age of op­er­a­tors who are ac­cred­ited with bet­ter main­tained rigs and bet­ter man­aged driv­ers’ fa­tigue and work­ing hours.

We also know from the re­peated and vir­tu­ally rou­tine re­sults of blitzes that the vast ma­jor­ity of de­fects is­sued are for non-safety re­lated mi­nor tech­ni­cal de­fects and that a mi­nor­ity are for ac­tual se­ri­ous safety de­fects.

Sure there are still some, the re­cal­ci­trant mi­nor­ity, who bla­tantly ig­nore safety. Even worse there are some, in­clud­ing some very large and high pro­file cor­po­rate op­er­a­tors and cus­tomers who love to brag as they cud­dle up with min­is­ters and the me­dia and in ev­ery sym­po­sium or con­fer­ence they can im­pose them­selves on, to pro­claim that they are in­dus­try lead­ers when it comes to safety.

Yet we all know that it’s noth­ing more than a thin ve­neer of a smoke­screen to cover their to­tal dis­re­gard for safety and ab­ro­ga­tion of their mo­ral and le­gal re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as they screw the lifeblood out of their sub-con­trac­tors in the most de­spi­ca­ble man­ner, through dead­lines, cost downs in­clud­ing neg­a­tive fuel levies (whose fuel prices have ac­tu­ally dropped… re­ally) and con­trac­tual con­di­tions that shift all re­spon­si­bil­ity to the sub-con­trac­tor in a mas­sive con that will soon be­come no more than an im­moral bluff when the Chain of Re­spon­si­bil­ity re­forms kick in on Oc­to­ber 1.

NHVR has it sorted

SO PUT all this to­gether and what does it mean as far as the ap­pro­pri­ate ap­proach for law en­force­ment ac­tiv­ity re­gard­ing truck­ing?

Well to their great credit the Na­tional Heavy Ve­hi­cle Reg­u­la­tor has worked it out. It means that the need for and days of see truck, chase truck, stop truck, de­fect truck and book driver are gone, as they are as re­dun­dant as the quill pen.

At least they should be gone but, as we all know, they haven’t be­cause that is still the old fash­ioned ap­proach of most po­lice. This is the great dilemma and ten­sion fac­ing law en­force­ment and reg­u­la­tion of the truck­ing in­dus­try and we are at a crit­i­cal point in time.

The NHVR and the po­lice, well most po­lice, know that the real prob­lems rest with a small re­cal­ci­trant mi­nor­ity of op­er­a­tors and driv­ers and some large bel­liger­ent cor­po­rates. The dif­fer­ence is that the NHVR is play­ing the smart and ef­fec­tive game of fo­cus­ing on where the real safety gains and prob­lems are; the re­cal­ci­trant mi­nor­ity. The po­lice, on the other hand, are hav­ing great philo­soph­i­cal dif­fi­culty in let­ting go of the old and largely in­ef­fec­tive way of do­ing things, be­cause it’s all they know for most po­lice, es­pe­cially the poorly trained (at least in re­la­tion to truck­ing) and ill-in­formed gen­eral du­ties po­lice of­fi­cers.

Pres­sure from above

OH AND there is an­other lit­tle prob­lem for po­lice, they are driven by se­nior of­fi­cers to pro­duce stats ... how many we caught and booked, re­gard­less of the fact that the vast ma­jor­ity of the stats re­late to ridicu­lous and non-safety re­lated tech­ni­cal and ad­min­is­tra­tive com­pli­ance breaches. Then what do they do? Noth­ing, un­til their next PR-driven blitz.

What’s achieved by that out­dated ap­proach? Noth­ing by and large, just look at the stats that keep rack­ing up the case against their own strat­egy.

What’s it cost? An enor­mous waste of valu­able and lim­ited polic­ing re­sources and a mas­sive and ut­terly un­jus­ti­fied cost bur­den on the in­dus­try and the econ­omy for vir­tu­ally zero safety gain. The amount of com­po­nents that are un­nec­es­sar­ily re­placed, be­cause a po­lice of­fi­cer “thinks” it’s worn, at sig­nif­i­cant ex­pense runs to thou­sands of dol­lars a time and im­poses un­jus­ti­fied ad­min­is­tra­tive bur­dens. This would trig­ger mas­sive com­mu­nity up­ris­ing if it was im­posed di­rectly on them. Still it con­tin­ues as a self-ful­fill­ing prophecy that com­forts politi­cians and se­nior po­lice like a fairy­tale read to chil­dren as they fall asleep.

The prob­lem is two-fold. Un­like the NHVR, po­lice gen­er­ally seem de­ter­mined to ig­nore the fact that the real safety is­sues rest with the re­cal­ci­trant mi­nor­ity and some wil­ful large cor­po­rates and se­condly they have a firm be­lief that the black and white let­ter law must be en­forced even when the tech­ni­cal breach is of no safety con­se­quence … be­cause it’s there and it’s a po­ten­tial stat.

The NHVR, to its great credit, is en­deav­our­ing to break that tra­di­tion and to shift the fo­cus to a risk-based and safety-fo­cused com­pli­ance and en­force­ment strat­egy and the NHVR’s draft Na­tional Com­pli­ance and En­force­ment Policy seeks to do just that. Sadly but un­der­stand­ably it’s not bind­ing on po­lice and po­lice will not adopt the new policy so we must not be lulled into com­pla­cency on this.

Bring­ing it to­gether

SO THERE is the chal­lenge for govern­ment. It must find a way to bring po­lice de­part­ments and the NHVR (and the NHVR’s part­ner agen­cies) to­gether and re­solve their dif­fer­ences and fo­cus on achiev­ing safety-fo­cused out­comes through the adop­tion of an in­tel­li­gence-led risk-based ap­proach, while main­tain­ing a fin­ger on the pulse of the rest of the in­dus­try with­out over­do­ing it. The chal­lenge seems to be in the de­tail of how the NHVR’s risk-based ap­proach will be im­ple­mented as po­lice are con­cerned that im­por­tant safety is­sues won’t be ef­fec­tively man­aged. Re­solv­ing this will dra­mat­i­cally im­prove safety within truck­ing by fi­nally im­pact­ing ef­fec­tively on the re­cal­ci­trant mi­nor­ity and the wil­ful cor­po­rates. It will also sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove the use of ex­pen­sive and valu­able polic­ing re­sources by erad­i­cat­ing, or at least min­imis­ing, the time wasted on in­ef­fec­tive so-called “en­force­ment” against truck­ing gen­er­ally where there is no safety gain. It’s time for gov­ern­ments and se­nior po­lice to get real.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

HIGH­WAY PA­TROL: Changes are needed, Steve Shearer sug­gests.

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