FIT FOR DUTY
Rather than a bigger crackdown on the trucking fleet, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator reckons its current roadworthiness survey might actually lead to less roadside dramas for truckies. Steve Skinner reports
THE NATIONAL trucking regulator says its current roadworthiness survey could find that the Australian truck fleet is in better shape than many people think.
“It may be revealed that it is very safe,” National Heavy Vehicle Regulator director of safety Daniel Elkins says.
“I’m pretty confident it’s going to reveal that the fleet is quite good despite its age.”
Elkins also floats the possibility that trucks may not be grounded so easily in the future, and he wants the criteria for major and minor defects to be made public.
His comments come as the NHVR’s National Roadworthiness Baseline Survey (NRBS) is rolling out.
About 9000 heavy vehicles will be randomly inspected during August and September for the first national survey to check the mechanical state of the nation’s fleet.
Trucks will be pulled into inspection sites and visually inspected by 50 specially-trained state compliance officers — most of them mechanics by trade — working in both metro and regional areas.
The NHVR says there will be no queuing at inspection sites. Vehicles will also be put over brake roller testers and suspension shakers. Inspections are expected to take 20 to 45 minutes.
The survey was officially launched by the NHVR at the Heavy Vehicle Engineering and Technical Conference (ComVec) in Melbourne in June.
CURRENTLY, the states and territories each have different inspection and data regimes, which means the condition of heavy vehicles nationally is unclear.
The survey inspections will test against criteria in the new, consistent National Heavy Vehicle Inspection
Manual, which came into effect on July 1 — except in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
However, the NHVR is confident WA will come on board soon.
“We are encouraging operators to be aware of the survey when scheduling to allow appropriate time for inspections,” NHVR CEO Sal Petroccitto says. “We understand the importance of the supply chain and where possible will ensure minimal disruption occurs.
“There’s been a little bit of noise from some sectors of the associations saying we’re going to be holding up the supply chain. I think that’s just rubbish.
“I think this is a really important initiative, and if the supply chain can’t find 20 to 30 minutes to actually get an understanding of the condition of the fleet, then we’ve all really got to go back and look at what we’re doing as an industry.
“Wherever possible, we will endeavor to ensure that we don’t delay tasks, but I suppose I’m concerned if you have operators that are tracking right down to the minute, are they really scheduling properly in terms of issues that might be occurring on the road, because there’s roadworks and other stuff like that?”
The NHVR says it has support for the survey from industry associations.
Daniel Elkins is director of safety with the NHVR. Intriguingly, it sounds like he’s having a debate with his own colleagues about the thorny issue of minor and major defects.
“There’s a view in the NHVR that we should not publish the defect guidelines … because it would create arguments on the side of the road,” Elkins says.
But his personal view is that they should be published.
“It’s about transparency and accountability,” he says. “Why shouldn’t you as a driver or operator know what constitutes a minor or major defect? That can only improve road safety can’t it?”
But first, the regulator has to “get in order” its ability to have national consistency in terms of the competency of inspectors, the inspection itself, and the way defects are cleared.
“We have a lot of work to do to ensure we have that consistency in the inspection regime,” Elkins says.
The NHVR also needs a lot of money it doesn’t yet have to establish a national computer database.
That database would also hold information on drivers, operators and road infrastructure that would enable a “risk-based” approach to compliance, such as targeting problems rather than a blanket approach.
“NRBS is about actually asking the question should we be spending all this money on vehicle standards and inspection of heavy vehicles?” Elkins says. “What is the actual road safety implication of poorly maintained vehicles?”
“Do I really care that you have got a broken light when there are 10 other lights on the vehicle that are actually functioning?
“Is it really affecting the road safety of that vehicle?
“Does one bald tyre make a vehicle unsafe? Is it six bald tyres? … Is one defect a groundable offence; is it five defects?”
PLENTY OF INFO
The NHVR has released a swathe of information about the roadworthiness survey on its website, at www.nhvr.gov.au/nrbs.
It includes reports from statisticians on sampling and methodology, guidance for the inspectors involved, and frequently asked questions. Some of these are: Q: How long will an inspection take? A: On average around 45 minutes — maybe less time for compliant vehicle combinations and maybe more for large combinations or non- compliant vehicles
Q: Can my vehicle be defected during a Survey inspection? A: The Survey is a research project … but if the vehicle is not compliant then a defect notice or other enforcement action may be taken in line with normal practice.
Q: Does a Survey inspection count as rest or work? A: Participation in the Survey is considered to be work time for the purpose of your work diary and for fatigue management considerations.
Q: What is the chance of being pulled over for a Survey inspection? A: Very low. We will be inspecting approximately 1.7 per cent of Australia’s 520,000 heavy vehicle fleet.
Also on the website are draft versions of the data recording forms.
Truck brands Cat and Fuso might be offended that they don’t appear under an alphabetical checklist of makes, and will have to feature under ‘Other’.
On the other hand, a few smokeblowers must be expected because Leyland and White do make it onto the alphabetical list.
After the national roadworthiness survey is completed, the new national inspection manual will be regularly reviewed.
First cab off the rank will be the section on brakes. The NHVR concedes problems exist with the roller brake test on unloaded trailers.
NHVR director of safety Daniel Elkins Sal Petroccitto is the NHVR’s CEO