SPECIALISING IN SAFETY
One of the world’s top experts on road safety reckons Australia has to get more technology into and onto its trucks, writes Steve Skinner
TRUCK UNDER-RUN protection systems and in-cab black boxes are necessary if Australia wants to improve its heavy vehicle safety, says a global road safety leader.
Dr Soames Job is head of the Global Road Safety Facility at the World Bank, and was one of the many eminent safety experts at the most recent Australasian Road Safety Conference in Canberra.
Owner//Driver pulled Dr Job and a few other experts aside during a morning tea break for 10 minutes and asked for their top-of-the-head recommendations for increased heavy vehicle safety in Australia.
“Trucks are dramatically overinvolved in deaths on Australian roads on a per-vehicle basis,” points out Job, an Australian road safety professor and former president of the Australasian College of Road Safety.
“That’s not to say that the truck drivers are at fault, but trucks are an extremely unforgiving object to hit when another driver or another road user makes a mistake. I think we need to be doing more to address that. We need more of the technology aimed at protecting not just the truck drivers, where we can also make improvement, but the road users around [them] who cop a very unforgiving outcome if they make a mistake near a truck.
“I mean better protection within cars but also better protection on the trucks for road users around them for when there is a collision.”
Job rates the number one measure for having more forgiving trucks as being front, side and rear under-run protection.
“Good technology in underrun protection is going to save a lot of lives in Australia,” he says.
Indeed, an average of 12 people a year are killed in Australia in accidents where they run into the back of trucks alone.
That sobering statistic was contained in a paper by Professor Raphael Grzebieta from the University of NSW and engineer George Rechnitzer, delivered at the conference. It’s not hard to guess the horrific injuries that occur when the bonnet of a car goes underneath the back of a truck and the back of the truck hits the windscreen and occupants’ heads before car occupant protection devices activate.
These devices include car crumple zones, frontal air-bags and pretensioning seat belts.
Lack of rear under-run protection is more dangerous on rigid trucks because of their longer overhang between the rear wheels and back of the chassis.
BLACK BOX FAN
Owner//Driver asked Job how Australia stacks up internationally when it comes to heavy vehicle safety.
“If we compare Australia with the average of the world, Australia is doing very well,” he replies.
“But if we compare Australia with the average of high-income countries, then not so well.
“There are many countries and we see, for example, in Europe very effective regulation of driving hours; of truck access; and very effective regulation by GPS of what trucks are doing, how fast they are going, and who is driving them.
“I think we can use more of that technology in Australia to manage these kinds of risks, which are very significant risks for Australia.”
Owner//Driver commented to Job that it must be horrendous being a truck driver in the sort of developing countries that account for a lot of his work.
“I think if we look at our lowincome countries around the world, then trucks and buses add very significantly to the risk because they are built in an unforgiving way; the vehicles colliding with them are unforgiving; and they’re very often heavily overloaded as well as poorly maintained,” he says. “So if we look at low-income countries then it’s a deep, deep challenge.”
Dr Rebecca Ivers is another global road safety expert and was one of the organisers of the conference. She is a professor of public health at the
University of Sydney and director of the injury division of the George Institute for Global Health, which forecasts that 20 million people will die from road injuries in the next decade.
The first measure for improved truck safety that springs to her mind is better restraints for drivers.
“Truck drivers are still not wearing their seatbelts at the rate that the rest of the population are, and we need major campaigns to make sure that’s actually happening,” Ivers says.
“The second challenge is looking at the safety of the people in the light trucking industry, because they are the ones who are actually starting to die at high rates as well.
“So, as we have the chain of responsibility legislation for the heavy trucks and the big businesses, a lot of the work is actually being devolved down the chain to small businesses and light trucks, and those people are less well recognised, that’s why we’re seeing an increase in crashes over the past few years.”
Current president of the Australasian College of Road Safety is Lauchlan McIntosh, and his top-of-thehead measures for saving lives are things like autonomous emergency braking systems and lane departure warnings, which are available in trucks these days.
“What we’ve really got to do is ensure that all new trucks have the latest technology for collision avoidance, and we have got to incentivise that because not only are they smarter but they are also generally environmentally better,” McIntosh says.
“So the more we can do that and the quicker we get the older trucks off the road, the better the results we’ll get.”
Nick Koukoulas is chief executive of Austroads, which is the peak organisation for Australasia Australasia’ss government road and traffic agencies. “I think the life of the heavy vehicle operator in Australia is a tough one,” is the first thing Koukoulas says.
He adds: “I think the industry is one where there are a lot of driver fatigue issues which need to be addressed.”
Koukoulas agrees with the comments of the other experts, and also talks about the need for much better truck driver training and licensing.
“I think the graduated licensing schemes need to become more aligned with all of the states and territories on what stage people can get heavy vehicle licenses,” he says.
“It’s not consistent and I don’t think it’s good enough.
"People can get a heavy vehicle license escalated to the next level just through the carriage of time, not through carriage of being able to display that they’re capable of driving a vehicle.”
Koukoulas gave as an example of what’s wrong with the system the now-infamous case from a couple of years ago of the chaos-causing B-double driver on Sydney’s M5 motorway who couldn’t reverse the truck or disconnect the trailers.
the as illustrated in barrier design from An energy-dissipating Grzebieta by professor Raphael paper presented George Rechnitzer NSW and engineer the University of
Road safety gurus: from left, Nick Koukoulas, Soames Job, Rebecca Ivers and Lauchlan McIntosh. Behind them is the Rod Pilon Transport TruckRight Industry Vehicle, piloted to the Road Safety Conference by Rod Hannifey