Time to resolve differences
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.
HIGHWAY PATROL: Changes are needed, Steve Shearer suggests.