Safety catch

The truck­ing in­dus­try and re­lated play­ers have turned on the usual ap­proach to polic­ing and com­pli­ance

Australian Transport News - - Con­tents - WORDS ROB M CKAY

The truck­ing in­dus­try and re­lated play­ers have turned on the usual ap­proach to polic­ing and com­pli­ance

S ome­thing ap­proach­ing a revolt has ex­er­cised minds this year amongst el­e­ments of Aus­tralia’s truck­ing fra­ter­nity in re­la­tion to New South Wales polic­ing, reg­u­la­tion and on-road op­er­a­tions.

There is a sense that tra­di­tional meth­ods of pub­lic­ity and en­force­ment used by the NSW Po­lice and Roads and Mar­itime Ser­vices (RMS), ac­cepted as par for the course for years, may not pass with­out scru­tiny and ques­tion­ing any more.

The cat­a­lyst for the this push­back built a proper head of steam through the lean news month of Jan­uary, start­ing with pub­lic­ity over a spike in truck-re­lated fa­tal­i­ties last year and gen­er­at­ing more in­tense heat due to mul­ti­ple deaths mid-month.

An in­dus­try that had wit­nessed the an­nual na­tional Op­er­a­tion Aus­trans morph into a dou­ble-header for the first time last year was al­ready en­gaged in the truck­ing safety de­bate for al­most four weeks be­fore NSW au­thor­i­ties un­leashed Op­er­a­tion Rolling Thun­der to a main­stream and in­dus­try me­dia al­ready warmed to the task.

And the public had been made aware that NSW roads min­is­ter Melinda Pavey was ad­vo­cat­ing elec­tric shocks for drowsy truck driv­ers, in a turn of phrase that smoth­ered a rea­son­able point about in-cab fatigue de­tec­tion and re­sponse tech­nol­ogy. THE BLITZ Head­line-grab­bing state­ments worked as in­tended, with blan­ket me­dia cov­er­age bol­stered by facts on the road.

The day-long blitz, co­or­di­nated by NSW Po­lice, in­volved the RMS and the Vic­to­rian, Queens­land, ACT, and South Aus­tralian po­lice forces, in what was de­scribed as “Aus­tralia’s largest ever heavy ve­hi­cle com­pli­ance op­er­a­tion”.

The op­er­a­tion be­gan at 6am, “in di­rect re­sponse” to events on Jan­uary 15-16, when three un­re­lated heavy ve­hi­cle crashes in NSW, at Jack­adgery, Cooran­bong and Brock­le­hurst, re­sulted in five deaths.

NSW Po­lice, con­sist­ing of more than 300 high­way pa­trol and gen­eral du­ties of­fi­cers from met­ro­pol­i­tan and re­gional ar­eas, along­side 150 RMS in­spec­tors, con­ducted heavy ve­hi­cle in­spec­tions around ma­jor NSW en­try points, at check­ing sta­tions and at 14 lo­ca­tions in the Syd­ney area. Rov­ing crews on ma­jor high­ways were also op­er­at­ing.

The other states’ forces had si­mul­ta­ne­ous op­er­a­tions “to en­sure all heavy ve­hi­cles en­ter­ing and leav­ing NSW are stopped, thor­oughly in­spected, and driv­ers tested for drugs and al­co­hol”.

The com­man­der of NSW Po­lice Traf­fic and High­way Pa­trol Com­mand, assistant com­mis­sioner Michael Cor­boy, said at the time the op­er­a­tion presents

an op­por­tu­nity for po­lice and other agen­cies to work to­gether to en­sure the en­tire truck­ing in­dus­try is op­er­at­ing safely.

“We sim­ply can­not stand by and ac­cept that dan­ger­ous trucks are on our roads and are caus­ing peo­ple to die,” Cor­boy says.

“NSW car­ries the bulk of the na­tion’s freight and we need to en­sure that all of the trucks com­ing and go­ing from the state are safe and com­pli­ant, and that truck driv­ers are not driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence of drugs or al­co­hol.

“To­day’s op­er­a­tion will test the en­tire heavy ve­hi­cle in­dus­try in NSW and across other states. We will re­view re­sults from the op­er­a­tion and stop any trucks, driv­ers, own­ers or op­er­a­tors who can’t com­ply with safety stan­dards and road rules, to en­sure all dan­ger­ous trucks are re­moved from our roads.”

RMS di­rec­tor of com­pli­ance Roger Weeks was also on hand to em­pha­sise that this was one of the largest op­er­a­tions jointly con­ducted by RMS and NSW Po­lice.

“Last year, more than half a mil­lion heavy ve­hi­cle units were in­spected and we will con­tinue to work closely with NSW Po­lice to tar­get and re­move un­safe ve­hi­cles from NSW roads,” Weeks con­tin­ues. “NSW has the most com­pre­hen­sive heavy ve­hi­cle safety and com­pli­ance sys­tem in the coun­try, and heavy ve­hi­cle driv­ers who ig­nore the law risk los­ing their li­cence and in­cur­ring heavy fines.”

In a po­lice video state­ment, Cor­boy re­vealed plan­ning for Op­er­a­tion Rolling Thun­der and li­ai­son with other state po­lice forces be­gan on the day of the se­cond high-pro­file crash.

“The rep­utable heavy ve­hi­cle com­pa­nies have noth­ing to fear from this op­er­a­tion,” Cor­boy says. “We look at the . . . driv­ers, we look at the qual­ity of the trucks, and the road­wor­thi­ness of the trucks, and we also look at the sys­tems in­volved – fatigue man­age­ment and load man­age­ment and all the other things that go into a rep­utable com­pany.”

For Weeks, the fo­cus is fatigue, speed, road­wor­thi­ness, and drug and al­co­hol test­ing – and un­der­lined what has be­come a reg­u­lar mes­sage.

“For those cow­boy truck­ies, for those dis­hon­est com­pa­nies, for those par­ties in the sup­ply chain who are plac­ing un­rea­son­able de­mands on the truck­ing in­dus­try, you’re in our sights,” he says.

“For those rep­utable truck­ing com­pa­nies, for those pro­fes­sional truck driv­ers who do the right thing on our roads every day, you have noth­ing to worry about.

“This morn­ing, al­ready, we have in­spected 500 trucks. We’ve found two ma­jor de­fects, we’ve found seven over­loaded trucks. This is not a good start to the day.

“NSW has the most com­pre­hen­sive heavy ve­hi­cle safety and com­pli­ance sys­tem in the coun­try”

“But, pleas­ingly, we have also found trucks that are fully com­pli­ant and are safe.”

Weeks also em­pha­sised a safety mes­sage to the wider com­mu­nity to take ex­tra care around trucks due to the dif­fer­ing dy­nam­ics be­tween trucks and cars.

He says feed­back from rep­utable op­er­a­tors and pro­fes­sional driv­ers is “they want the rat­bag el­e­ment out of the in­dus­try”. He re­vealed that RMS is­sued direc­tions to ground 29 driv­ers be­cause of “crit­i­cal fatigue breaches” in Jan­uary alone.

“That is un­ac­cept­able be­hav­iour by the driver, by the com­pany, and by any­one else in the sup­ply chain that is plac­ing un­rea­son­able pres­sure on the truck­ies.

“The worst thing we have seen is the crit­i­cal fatigue of a driver in­ter­cepted near Jones Is­land up near Ta­ree. This driver was al­most asleep at the wheel.

“Our in­spec­tors were un­able to in­ter­view him effectively be­cause he was con­tin­u­ously droop­ing his head, slur­ring his words. We called the po­lice and they es­corted that driver to a mo­tel.”


But, de­spite the plat­i­tudes about chas­ing the bad el­e­ments, the in­dus­try re­ac­tion this time was any­thing but docile.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive bod­ies of­ten seen to be in step with gov­ern­ments cut to the chase, with early re­sis­tance com­ing from the Aus­tralian Truck­ing As­so­ci­a­tion (ATA) and the Na­tional Road Trans­port As­so­ci­a­tion (NatRoad), en­er­get­i­cally sup­ported by the South Aus­tralian Road Trans­port As­so­ci­a­tion (SARTA). The mes­sage was clear: au­thor­i­ties and gov­ern­ments con­tinue to be more fo­cused on the symp­toms of the prob­lem than tack­ling the causes.

ATA chair Ge­off Crouch had al­ready re­stated the ATA’s call for the Aus­tralian Trans­port Safety Bureau (ATSB) to have its re­mit ex­tended to in­clude ma­jor truck ac­ci­dents, along with call­ing for $4.3 mil­lion to be spent fed­er­ally over four years on a na­tional data­base of coro­nial rec­om­men­da­tions about road safety and of se­ri­ous truck ac­ci­dents.

But, with the heat on and sim­plis­tic and uni­formed me­dia com­men­tary abound­ing, Crouch sought to turn the heat back on gov­ern­ment with prac­ti­cal ad­vice.

“In 2017, the num­ber of deaths in NSW from crashes in­volv­ing ar­tic­u­lated trucks like semi-trail­ers in­creased dra­mat­i­cally, but we know that most of the in­crease in deaths was in multi-ve­hi­cle crashes,” he says. “About 80 per cent

of fatal multi-ve­hi­cle crashes in­volv­ing trucks are not the fault of the truck driver.

“Truck com­pli­ance op­er­a­tions can­not pos­si­bly pre­vent these crashes, so gov­ern­ments need to take a broader, long-term ap­proach to safety as well as sup­port­ing po­lice blitzes.”

NatRoad’s take was harsher and sought a wider con­text.

“The road toll is not go­ing to be re­duced in a con­text of blam­ing the truck in­dus­try in iso­la­tion for the regrettable deaths that oc­cur on Aus­tralia’s roads,” NatRoad CEO War­ren Clark says. “In fact, the sta­tis­tics show that, in col­li­sions in­volv­ing fa­tal­i­ties, the truck was not at fault on 93 per cent of oc­ca­sions. The sta­tis­tics also show that, in an anal­y­sis of truck crash in­ci­dents, me­chan­i­cal fail­ures were in­con­se­quen­tial with a 3.5 per cent in­ci­dent level. In that con­text, tyre fail­ure ac­counted for 52 per cent of losses at­trib­uted to a me­chan­i­cal fault.

“NatRoad is very con­cerned about the re­cent spike in se­ri­ous truck ac­ci­dents in NSW. We have not seen this spike in other states, which are sub­ject to the same heavy ve­hi­cle safety stan­dards and fatigue man­age­ment rules, so we must find out whether the prob­lem is unique to NSW. Ob­jec­tive and con­certed in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the re­cent in­ci­dents is es­sen­tial.

“We of­fer our co-op­er­a­tion to the po­lice but short-term so­lu­tions based on blam­ing the in­dus­try are not go­ing to as­sist a long-term prob­lem. En­hanced drug and al­co­hol test­ing of light ve­hi­cles should go hand-in-hand with in­creased en­force­ment of the law re­lat­ing to the heavy ve­hi­cle in­dus­try. It is the be­hav­iour of other driv­ers around heavy ve­hi­cles that re­quires at­ten­tion, a mat­ter that is best solved through ed­u­ca­tion – es­pe­cially at the stage of get­ting a li­cence to drive.

“We also need to in­vest more in ac­ci­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion to find out why in­ci­dents in NSW are in­creas­ing com­pared with other states and ter­ri­to­ries.

“It is time for all au­thor­i­ties to fully sup­port the new chain of re­spon­si­bil­ity laws that will come into force this year, laws which spread the re­spon­si­bil­ity for con­trol­ling on-road risk to other par­ties in the sup­ply chain. These laws will do ex­actly what is re­quired – take the heat off the driver and place re­spon­si­bil­ity for con­trol­ling risk with the party best able to take that step.”

But per­haps the most pointed crit­i­cism about the whole strat­egy was laid by SARTA on so­cial me­dia. High on the list of SARTA’s com­plaints was the high­light­ing of 26 pos­i­tive drugs re­turns of 1752 driv­ers tested.

“Drugs: 26 out of 1752 tested re­turned pos­i­tive tests. So that is 1.4 per cent,” the post reads. “That’s right, 98.6 per cent were drug FREE!

“The gen­eral mo­tor­ing com­mu­nity would NEVER re­turn a re­sult as good as that and the po­lice damned well know it – but they don’t men­tion that truck­ing is al­most drug-free and far more re­spon­si­ble than mo­torists. Sure, any truck driver test­ing pos­i­tive to drugs is one too many, but for good­ness sake, keep it in perspective.”

It ar­gues that politi­cians and the au­thor­i­ties should con­sider “ap­plaud­ing the in­dus­try on this point but say­ing that the re­main­ing tiny mi­nor­ity us­ing drugs needs to be erad­i­cated” but ques­tions if this would un­der­mine any PR gains from the ef­fort.

SARTA also took a swipe at the use of de­fect num­bers and the lack of a break­down of them.

“Some 2000 de­fects is­sued from over 5000 trucks in­spected,” the post reads.

“The public, the me­dia and, most con­cern­ing, the ill-in­formed politi­cians, will all get to­tally sucked in by that be­cause it sounds like 40 per cent of trucks are un­safe.”

SARTA also ques­tioned the ba­sis on which the de­fects were iden­ti­fied.

“What stan­dard did the po­lice ap­ply in Op­er­a­tion Rolling PR Blun­der? Was it the gov­ern­ment-ap­proved and of­fi­cial na­tional

HeavyVe­hi­cle In­spec­tion Man­ual (HVIM) that the NHVR spent so much money on de­vel­op­ing in con­sul­ta­tion with po­lice and in­dus­try be­fore rolling it out and ad­vis­ing the in­dus­try that the HVIM is THE BIBLE and should be used by all of­fi­cers and in­dus­try to man­age road­wor­thi­ness? No, of course it wasn’t, be­cause po­lice don’t con­sider them­selves bound to the NHVIM,” the post reads.

“So un­less, and un­til, the peo­ple be­hind Op­er­a­tion Rolling Thun­der get se­ri­ous about work­ing WITH the in­dus­try to im­prove safety con­tin­u­ally, the nec­es­sary ac­tual safety im­prove­ments re­quired amongst the small mi­nor­ity who are ac­tu­ally un­safe JUST WONT HAP­PEN.”


And the NSW Po­lice also copped fire from a for­mer ally in the form of one-time NHVR safety di­rec­tor Daniel Elkins, who en­gaged in an ex­change with chief in­spec­tor and stake­holder re­la­tions man­ager Phillip Brooks on the LinkedIn page of high-pro­file truck safety cam­paigner Rod Han­nifey.

Elkins, who is pur­su­ing con­sul­tancy since leav­ing the NHVR last year, also tack­led the is­sue on his own LinkedIn page

“The ques­tion I have asked is that ev­i­dence be pro­vided that this op­er­a­tion

and op­er­a­tions like it demon­strate their ef­fec­tive­ness in pro­vid­ing a pos­i­tive im­pact on road safety,” Elkins says.

“This has not been de­liv­ered in any of the re­sponses to my ar­ti­cles.

“In ad­di­tion, my cred­i­bil­ity is be­ing ques­tioned be­cause an al­ter­nate view as to how to im­prove road safety has been pro­posed. The fo­cus of the NSW Po­lice re­sponse in re­la­tion to my ar­ti­cles is mis­guided and the ques­tion stands and re­mains unan­swered.”

Brooks put up a stern de­fence, though it stuck to the ear­lier NSW Po­lice script on the size of the op­er­a­tion and the num­bers of deaths. How­ever, he did say: “If you can give me another en­force­ment and com­pli­ance strat­egy that gives an in­di­ca­tion of the ‘state of the fleet’ I’ll cer­tainly use it.”


Mean­while, the Truck In­dus­try Coun­cil (TIC) took ad­van­tage of in­creased scru­tiny of truck safety to re­new its call for a younger na­tional fleet.

One of the few voices con­sis­tently call­ing for ac­tion over the in­creas­ing av­er­age age of the na­tion’s truck­ing fleet, the TIC backed early Jan­uary com­ments from Toll MD Michael Byrne call­ing on the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to in­cen­tivise Aus­tralian truck op­er­a­tors to in­vest in newer, safer and more-sus­tain­able ve­hi­cles.

Byrne’s com­ments had been trig­gered by de­bate around the truck deaths spike in NSW last year of 86 per cent, with road fa­tal­i­ties ris­ing from 29 to 54 last year.

Phil Tay­lor, TIC pres­i­dent and chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of Isuzu Trucks in Aus­tralia, ex­pressed his dis­may at the re­sults and called for the gov­ern­ment to pri­ori­tise in the 2018/19 fed­eral Bud­get the mod­erni­sa­tion of Aus­tralia’s truck fleet.

“In­creas­ing the take-up rate of to­day’s more-ad­vanced trucks means ev­ery­one ben­e­fits from our roads be­ing pop­u­lated with safer fleets,” Tay­lor says.

“Hav­ing been around trucks and the Aus­tralian road trans­port in­dus­try since the late sev­en­ties, I can ver­ify that sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments have been made in re­gard to truck and road safety.

“We must push to­wards zero deaths on our roads, truck re­lated or other­wise, and, as an in­dus­try col­lec­tive, we must be­lieve we can achieve that.”

In 2017, the av­er­age age of the Aus­tralian truck fleet was 14.9 years and, with the na­tional freight task con­tin­u­ally ex­pand­ing, this fig­ure is set to rise.

The TIC has con­sis­tently called on gov­ern­ment for gen­uine sup­port in help­ing op­er­a­tors upgrade their fleets to a morer­o­bust safety stan­dard. It notes 42 per cent of the na­tion’s truck fleet was man­u­fac­tured be­fore 2003, mean­ing that these trucks are miss­ing many of the safety tech­nolo­gies that come as stan­dard on a truck sold in 2017.

“The choice is not whether Aus­tralia uses trucks – they’re es­sen­tial to our stan­dard of liv­ing – the choice is whether we have the most mod­ern fleets pos­si­ble,” Tay­lor says.

“Aus­tralia can have safer trucks on the road, or we can con­tinue with an older fleet.

“TIC be­lieves the im­ple­men­ta­tion of an in­cen­tivised sys­tem, which re­wards safe and mod­ern fleets, is the most proac­tive and cost-ef­fec­tive mech­a­nism for low­er­ing Aus­tralia’s road toll.

“We must act now. This is about creat­ing a safe, pro­duc­tive and ro­bust road trans­port in­dus­try, but, most im­por­tantly, it’s about en­sur­ing that no more Aus­tralian fam­i­lies are torn apart by largely pre­ventable road crashes and fa­tal­i­ties.”


Judg­ing by the fol­low­ing re­sponse from fed­eral in­fra­struc­ture min­is­ter Barn­aby Joyce, while sym­pa­thetic to the idea, the fed­eral gov­ern­ments is loath to push it.

“The Gov­ern­ment sup­ports reducing the av­er­age age of the truck­ing fleet, as a younger fleet can im­prove safety and en­vi­ron­men­tal out­comes,” a spokesper­son for the min­is­ter tells ATN. “Pre­vi­ous re­search by the Bureau of In­fra­struc­ture, Trans­port and Re­gional Eco­nom­ics shows that fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives are far more likely to ben­e­fit larger fleet op­er­a­tors, which al­ready turn over their fleets more of­ten.

“The same re­search also found lit­tle ev­i­dence this ap­proach would lead to older ve­hi­cles be­ing taken out of ser­vice.

“Im­prov­ing heavy ve­hi­cle safety re­quires a multi-pronged ap­proach, with mea­sures such as chain of re­spon­si­bil­ity im­prove­ments to the na­tional law, in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment, and tar­geted fund­ing to­ward spe­cific ini­tia­tives far more likely to im­prove safety.

“The Gov­ern­ment is im­prov­ing new heavy ve­hi­cle safety through the in­tro­duc­tion of tech­nolo­gies, such as elec­tronic sta­bil­ity con­trol and anti-lock brak­ing sys­tems, through the Aus­tralian

De­signRules. We are also pro­vid­ing more than $15 mil­lion for a range of heavy ve­hi­cle safety ini­tia­tives.”

Above: RMS di­rec­tor of com­pli­ance Roger Weeks and NSW Po­lice assistant com­mis­sioner Michael Cor­boy

Left: NSW roads min­is­ter Melinda Pavey

Op­po­site: SARTA ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Steve Shearer

Right: ATA chair Ge­off Crouch

Be­low: Fed­eral in­fra­struc­ture min­is­ter Barn­aby Joyce

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