The NSW Roads and Maritime Services is considering the reclassification of truck routes through Moree as heavy vehicles continue to be targeted by rock throwers along the Newell Highway at night. Cobey Bartels writes
A NEW spate of rock throwing incidents near Moree along the Newell Highway has again raised the alarm for truck driver safety.
Road transport safety advocate and veteran driver Rod Hannifey says he was approached in late August by a driver who informed him of a rock that was thrown through his passenger window.
“He had his passenger window smashed at Moree and he had glass all through his bunk,” Hannifey says. “He told me it’s been going on for a long time and that he had informed police.”
Hannifey says a similar incident had occurred one week earlier when a northbound truck was hit by two kids standing in the middle of the road.
In October last year a truck driver suffered a serious head injury and damage to his Mack from three separate rocks thrown.
That incident sparked increased efforts from Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) and the Moree Shire Council to increase patrols as well as committing to additional CCTV and lighting, as well as education at schools and the local Rugby League club. An RMS spokesperson tells Owner//
Driver that it is working with Moree Plains Shire Council, NSW Police, rail authorities, community groups and community leaders to address the issue.
“Roads and Maritime has contributed $ 90,000 towards lighting and CCTV, which has been installed to help prevent rock throwing in Moree,” the RMS spokesperson says. “Truck drivers who are aware of incidents of rock throwing or other criminal activity when driving through Moree should contact the NSW Police or emergency services.”
When asked about alternative routes, RMS says it was looking into reclassification of the over-dimensional route for AB-triple and B-triple combinations. “Heavy vehicles, excepting AB-triple and B-triple, can travel through Moree via the over dimensional vehicle route.
“Roads and Maritime is investigating the reclassification of the route to allow AB-triple and B-triple vehicles to use the over-dimensional vehicle route,” the spokesperson continues.
A database was set up by the council to log every complaint, allowing better enforcing and plotting of incidents over time, but this relies on truck drivers reporting the rock throwing.
“This has been going on for a long time and people don’t even bother reporting it because it’s so common,” Hannifey says. “Make sure you report it immediately because people have been killed and it could happen again; we don’t deserve that as truck drivers. Even at Moree, if you smash your windscreen and cross the road nothing will stop the truck.”
However, director of planning and community development at the Moree Shire Council, Angus Witherby, tells
Owner//Driver the council is aware of the rock throwing and is continuing to pursue solutions to the issue.
Witherby says the new CCTV and lighting has yet to be installed, “but we’ve been doing the background work like the cabling and fibre optics hook-ups”. “We are hoping to get it fully implemented in time for our next main harvest,” he adds.
Witherby says the total budget for the CCTV and lighting was now around $ 200,000. A proactive initiative he highlighted was a mobile neighbourhood watch program, which was established by the Aboriginal community in Moree, assisting in fighting the rock-throwing problem.
“It is part of the neighbourhood program and is done in conjunction with the police force,” he explains. “It’s about providing eyes and ears around town.
“What that’s done is free up police resources to be able to do more targeted, focused policing based on information provided to them. It’s got about 80 people involved in it.”
He adds that police have been taking out additional patrols with some success. Witherby agrees that reporting the incidents need to be a high priority to help police and council effectively target the issue.
“The reporting needs to be to the police, and we want to hear about it,” he insists. “Police told us of three rock incidents in the last two months reported to them. It’s in everybody’s interest to report these incidents to the police, and we are also happy to take a call and chat about it in detail.”
When the issue was at its worst, Witherby says they would receive multiple incidents reported each week. The issue is one that won’t go away, and Hannifey says the lights and cameras are needed as soon as possible, as well as calling on council to trim shrubs in the area.
“First thing is to knock the shrubs down so people can’t hide in them,” he says. “The fence they’re cutting every night, so we need more lights and cameras to catch them.”
Rock-throwing incidents have been a common occurrence along the northern stretches of the Newell Highway for the past four years.
Back in June 2014, an NQX driver was hospitalised when rocks were thrown through his windscreen near Boggabilla.
The most infamous occurrence of rock throwing came in 1998 when truck driver and father-of-two Mark Evans was killed when four rocks smashed through his windscreen on the Hume Highway south of Sydney.