25:25 hind­sight

Look­ing back and re­flect­ing on the sin­gle big­gest change of the last two-and-a-half decades: com­pli­ance

Australian Transport News - - Contents - WORDS MATT W OOD

With quar­ter of a cen­tury un­der his belt within truck­ing and trans­port, Matt Wood looks back and re­flects on the sin­gle big­gest change of the last two and a half decades: com­pli­ance

There’s a nice syn­chronic­ity to look­ing back over the last twoand-a-half decades of truck­ing. It also hap­pens to be al­most 25 years since my pro­fes­sional in­volve­ment in truck­ing be­gan, which makes me feel kinda old.

Sure, elec­tron­i­cally con­trolled en­gines were al­ready a thing, but there were still plenty of smoke-belch­ing me­chan­i­cal bangers ply­ing the roads. I’d thrown my hat in the ring for a ca­reer in truck­ing. As a fresh-faced coun­try boy start­ing out as a driver in the big smoke, it was a bap­tism of fire.

I was start­ing at the bot­tom, at the wheel of a lit­tle Isuzu FSR.

On the plus side, it had power steer­ing and an AM ra­dio. On the mi­nus side, it had no air-con. Then again, nei­ther did the old Bed­fords, Com­mers and ACCOs I was used to steer­ing in the bush.

But re­ally, I’d have to say that, from a driver’s view look­ing back, the big­gest change over the last quar­ter of a cen­tury has been com­pli­ance. Back then, com­pli­ance was a log­book.

Pretty much all you had to do was make it look le­git. If the boss was happy and the job got done then all was good. You worked hard and got a de­cent enough pay packet for it. Sim­ple.

Back in the early ’ 90s, if you’d told me that one day com­pli­ance would be a full-time job in most large trans­port com­pa­nies, I would’ve said you were mad.

The idea that you could be breached/ booked for let­ting it roll a cou­ple of kays over would’ve seemed lu­di­crous at the time. Same goes for work­ing a lit­tle bit over hours here and there.

In fact, by the time I slipped be­hind the wheel for my first in­ter­state job,

most of the trucks in the fleet had “gen­er­ous” speed lim­iters. Oh, how times have changed.

Many would say for the worse, though I can’t help but play devil’s ad­vo­cate here.

Com­pli­ance has en­com­passed so many facets of a driver’s daily work­load. There are in­duc­tions to var­i­ous dis­tri­bu­tion cen­tres, trans­port de­pots and con­struc­tion sites. All this, along with ve­hi­cle road­wor­thi­ness and speed.

A whole in­dus­try has sprung from be­ing com­pli­ant. Chain of

re­spon­si­bil­ity and threat of lit­i­ga­tion has meant that there’s also more mon­i­tor­ing and ac­count­abil­ity for those be­hind the wheel.

It would be tempt­ing to ro­man­ti­cise the past at this point. We can all re­call a perfect night where you got out of town early and had a clear run with traf­fic.

We can all re­call that time when the truck just seemed to be do­ing ev­ery­thing right, the load was spot on, and the en­gine was pulling like a train.

The gear­stick fell silk­ily smooth into the slot and the whole thing just marched up hills while belch­ing a very sat­is­fy­ing cloud of fuel smoke – one of those trips that val­i­dated your de­sire to drive trucks in the first place. That’s the thing about hind­sight, though. It of­ten glosses over the bad stuff in the face of change.


I re­mem­ber the first time that a bloke I knew was killed in a truck ac­ci­dent. I’m not say­ing he was a mate but we knew each other by name and chat­ted when we bumped into each other. It was a shock.

The pic­tures of that crum­pled CH Mack are still etched in my mem­ory; 20 tonnes of glass tore the cab from the chas­sis and rolled it into a ball. It was a vi­o­lent, hor­ri­ble, ugly way to die. While the of­fi­cial ex­pla­na­tion was fa­tigue, the un­der­cur­rent of all that driver chat­ter was that he’d stuffed up.

“Why didn’t he pull up for 15 min­utes?” “He’d had plenty of time dur­ing the day to get some sleep.” “What was he do­ing?”

He was the first – but sadly not the last – bloke I knew whose life would come to a pre­ma­ture end at the wheel of a truck.

Re­gard­less of the seem­ingly end­less in­duc­tions and driver ob­ser­va­tions, truck­ing has never been safer. I’m not say­ing it’s perfect – far from it. But trucks and truck­ing have come a long way in the last 25 years. It’s a fact that mod­ern prime movers are far safer than those from decades past.

How­ever, much of this ad­vance­ment has by­passed the owner-driver. A sin­gle-truck op­er­a­tor has their work cut out when it comes to tick­ing all the com­pli­ance boxes while also man­ag­ing a busi­ness. But the law doesn’t dis­crim­i­nate. You own a truck,

“Most of the trucks in the fleet had ‘gen­er­ous’ speed lim­iters”

you have a busi­ness, and there are le­gal obli­ga­tions that go with it.

The sin­gle most galling thing about the rise of com­pli­ance is the low­est com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor ap­proach it takes. It lacks re­spect and tar­nishes the pro­fes­sion­al­ism of the men and women who haul goods around the coun­try on a daily ba­sis. In its cur­rent form, com­pli­ance lacks dig­nity and re­spect. The re­al­ity is that the trans­port in­dus­try is full of highly ex­pe­ri­enced pro­fes­sion­als.

How­ever, com­pli­ance judges every­body by the same yard­stick. Ac­cord­ing to the laws of com­pli­ance, a work­force is only as strong as its weak­est link. So in­stead of com­mon sense, you of­ten get dumbed-down le­gal­i­ties.

If your foot gets run over by a fork­lift then you mustn’t have read the in­duc­tion prop­erly. Or maybe you weren’t stand­ing in your lit­tle painted box. Or maybe the forkie just stuffed up.


Hav­ing been in the writ­ing gig for a while now, I have the lux­ury of look­ing back fondly. I get to ro­man­ti­cise. How­ever, if I’m bru­tally hon­est, I also have to con­front the toll that has been taken on those around me. I’m not just talk­ing about ac­ci­dents.

I’m also talk­ing about that tra­di­tional truck­ing life­style of lit­tle sleep, lots of stress, and hard yakka. I spent my en­tire driv­ing ca­reer as “the young bloke”. Most of my work­mates had at least a decade on me. Over that time, an alarm­ing amount are now ei­ther dead or in­ca­pac­i­tated. Bad hearts, bad backs and bad luck.

For all of its in­con­ve­nience, com­pli­ance has made the job safer, just not safe enough. Not yet. One way of look­ing at it is to see the way that safety tech­nol­ogy has rolled out in cars and trucks.

There are pas­sive safety fea­tures. These re­volve around things like airbags and cab strength. They pro­tect the oc­cu­pants if an ac­ci­dent hap­pens. Then there are ac­tive safety fea­tures; things like sta­bil­ity con­trol, radar cruise con­trol and lane-de­par­ture warn­ing. These help pre­vent an ac­ci­dent.

Com­pli­ance, like the roll­out of safety tech, has tra­di­tion­ally been pas­sive, kick­ing into gear after an in­ci­dent. It is, how­ever, be­com­ing more ac­tive as time passes. Cur­rently, if a truck­ing com­pany is in­volved in an ac­ci­dent, it is nearly cer­tain it will be raided and au­dited.

Hope­fully a more proac­tive ap­proach will emerge in the fu­ture – an ac­tive com­pli­ance ap­proach that is aimed at pre­vent­ing ac­ci­dents rather than pro­tect­ing ei­ther the truck­ing com­pany or its cus­tomers. And maybe then will fol­low the dig­nity and re­spect that all those be­hind the wheel in the Aus­tralian trans­port in­dus­try de­serve.

Above: Along the Hume – the busiest high­way for freight trans­port in Australia

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