Putting the brake on
Truck operators need to invest in safety, writes GRAHAMSMITH
IF THE Australian road freight industry is to meet demand it will have to use larger, more productive trucks and lift its game on safety.
When it comes to technology such as disc brakes, advanced braking systems, electronic braking and electronic stability control, Australia trails the rest of the trucking world, says the chairman of the Australian Road Transport Suppliers Association.
In a speech to transport operators in Melbourne, Dr Peter Hart, author of the association’s code of practice on heavy vehicle brakes, said fleets had to embrace advanced safety technology if they were to meet future demand for freight — tipped to double over the next few years.
A doubling in demand would normally mean double the number of trucks on the road, but that’s unlikely to happen given the effect on traffic congestion, and motoring safety.
The public is already concerned about the number and size of trucks on the road, so anything that would increase either is likely to meet outrage.
The answer, Dr Hart says, is larger, more efficient trucks that would carry greater loads, but the industry and regulators have to reassure the public they are safe.
That’s where advanced safety systems like disc brakes, ABS, EBS and stability control come in.
Vehicles with advanced braking systems can reducing braking distances up to about 30 per cent, with a quantum improvement in road handling and stability.
Much of the technology is available, but Australian operators have been slow to adopt it.
Only 10 to 15 per cent of new trucks sold here have disc brakes, even though they have markedly better performance and better resistance to fading than drum brakes.
And only 50 to 60 per cent of trucks sold have ABS when laws now demand it is fitted to all new trucks sold in Europe, North America and Japan.
The take-up of load-sensing brakes, which adjust the braking according to the load carried on trucks and trailers, is also low.
Load-sensing brake systems are more or less standard on European trucks, Dr Hart says.
It’s a similar story with electronic stability controls, which detect when a vehicle is likely to leave the road or roll and apply individual brakes to bring it under control.
Electronic stability control will be compulsory on new heavy trucks in Europe from 2011; the US will make it mandatory on light trucks from 2011 and is moving to make it mandatory on heavy trucks.
It’s coming whether we like it or not, so we should embrace it, Dr Hart says.
Australian regulators will find truck stability control irresistible because it has such radical potential to improve the dynamics of heavy vehicles.
Other systems, such as adaptive cruise control to maintain the gap between vehicles, autonomous emergency braking that applies the brakes to avoid a frontal collision, and lane departure warning devices are commercially available on many European trucks sold here.
Dr Hart says operators must embrace the new technology in the interests of safety, just as they did when electronics were applied to diesel engines, with massive improvements to emissions, fuel efficiency and performance.
He urges governments to provide the regulatory framework.
Continental caution: big European trucks usually come fitted with the latest safety technology.