Call to RMS on reasons behind M5 truck crashes
Long Haul Drivers Association president Brian Turpie points to road path issues on motorway
THE REACTION OF NEW SOUTH WALES authorities to recent M5 truck crashes masks issues closer to home, truck drivers’ advocate Brian Turpie states.
The Long Haul Drivers Association (LHDA) president has been moved to respond to events that saw crashes with the safety barrier on the route and the resultant trucking company raids, all of which serves to further besmirch the industry’s name.
In September a container-hauling semi-trailer burst into flames after hitting the barrier at Kingsgrove, resulting in at least 18 hours of traffic chaos.
In a wide-ranging critique of conditions in major cities such as Sydney and Melbourne, Turpie, who is doing urban work in Sydney, points to a similar incident in August saying “the chaos endured … by the M5 fiasco, the road network became gridlocked within an hour and took more than 10 hours to alleviate, but did you know that was avoidable?
“That was the second truck accident in six weeks at the exact same location and with the exact same cause although no-one it seems wants to acknowledge that those two so called accidents were caused by the road works on the M5 being poorly executed by the contractor.”
Turpie notes that when the M5 roadway was re-aligned some months ago, the contractor involved moved the road path to the north, with a series of tight turns to allow them to use the old road area to do works for the new tunnels.
“Unfortunately no one seemed to understand, nor appreciate, that this new section was way too tight for semitrailers and B-doubles to negotiate,” he says. “To date it had only been the skill of most heavy vehicle operators that have avoided tragedy in that area.
“Surely two semi-trailers crashing into the same barrier heading in the same direction on a re- aligned piece of road that in 15 years previously had never had such an accident would ring alarm bells with engineers in the RMS [Roads and Maritime Services] and the head contractor. But no, the authorities have chosen to keep quiet about that and instead raid the two transport companies and pursue the individual drivers for alleged negligent driving.
“I have had an accident-free career spanning 42 years and some eight million kilometres and I can tell you that a couple of times I have had a scare at that very spot because of the poor alignment and sudden kink in the road that can catch you unaware very easily.
“This will happen again I’m afraid because the problem has not been acknowledged or addressed with the resultant consequence.”
Insisting the present road infrastructure in the two biggest cities is dangerously congested due to having to cope with twice the population it is designed for, Turpie also takes the RMS to task over malfunctioning overheight sensors that contribute to gridlock, leading to truck-drivers being blamed.
“Firstly, the overheight vehicle sensor on the Warringah Freeway has been malfunctioning for at least two years and it has resulted in traffic chaos for commuters and heartache for unsuspecting truck drivers for absolutely no reason at all. I drive a semi-trailer that is 4.22 metres high and it often sets off the overheight sensor on the southbound Warringah Freeway.
“I have contacted the RMS on at least five occasions to alert them to this problem but to date they have done nothing about it. I wrote a letter to the magistrate for one driver who was booked for this and could have been fined $2,630 and six demerit points.
“The NSW road network is designed to allow for a maximum heavy vehicle height of 4.3 metres, so our low bridge and tunnel network has limits between 4.2 and 4.5 metres and until 2012 that has worked just fine with only a very rare overheight vehicle causing problems, however [RMS predecessor] the NSW RTA granted certain operators special permits to operate 4.6 metre vehicles in NSW.
“There was no compelling argument for this increase in height other than financial gain to the detriment of other operators who still had to remain within the 4.3 metre limit. Surely someone in the NSW government or the bureaucracy would have realised that this ruling could have critical implications on its road network that was set for 4.3 metres? Have you noticed that the over-height vehicle problems only started from that date on?”
Turpie includes the Lane Cove and M5 tunnels as having overly sensitive sensors. RMS responses to the issues raised are awaited.
On last month’s fiery crash, police say the truck “started to veer to the right before coming into contact with a concrete safety barrier”.
Two days later, Traffic Task Force police and RMS heavy vehicle inspectors entered the distribution centre of the company involved for a heavy vehicle compliance audit, inspecting 34 units.
From this, 10 defect notices were issued, seven for minor issues “relating to brake booster stroke alerts being visible, ancillary equipment such as damaged mirrors, missing compulsory marker plates, frayed seatbelts and sharp edges on damaged panels on vehicles”.
Two notices were for non-compliant speed limiters “with one vehicle having a road speed of 103km/h and the other 104km/h”. One major defect notice was for a non-compliant speed limiter “which had road speed of 109km/h with a potential road speed of 129km/h”.
RMS issued one substantial axle weight breach for a heavy vehicle allegedly at four tonne over its applicable axle weight. “The driver of this vehicle was also issued with a direction to reduce the load over that axle spacing,” the police notice says.
LongHaul Drivers Association president Brian Turpie
Photo: NSW Traffic and Highway Patrol Facebook