The Federal Government urgently needs to address six critical areas to improve road safety and reduce the number of fatalities and incidents in the transport industry, according to the CEO of multinational transportation and logistics company Toll Group.
In the five years to 2016, more than 1,000 people were killed in truck crashes, said Michael Byrne, managing director of Toll Group, who recently wrote an open letter to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull calling for action on road safety.
“We have heard from many experts across government and academia on what needs to be done to improve road safety,” he said.
“We don’t need any further research, studies and committees. We have immediate, critical opportunities before us today that, when implemented, will save lives.”
He said recent media reports have highlighted what many in the transport industry already know all too well – Australia has a dire road safety problem, and Byrne explained that there are six critical areas to address this – the first of which is to have one rule book across Australia.
“Starting with the basics – we are yet to have a consistent definition of what a ‘heavy vehicle’ is,” he said.
“Sometimes it’s a vehicle above 12 tonnes (for work and rest hours), sometimes above 12 tonnes and manufactured after 1997 (for speed limiters – except in NSW), and sometimes a vehicle above 4.5 tonnes (mass, dimension and load restraint).
“Compliance starts with clarity of the rules. A truck should be any vehicle 4.5 tonnes and above. Period.”
Byrne said a related issue is driver fatigue, and the current state-based system allows drivers to drive for up to 17 hours in a 24 hour period in Western Australia and up to 18 hours in the Northern Territory – a workday that would be illegal for a driver in any other state.
“This leaves time for a maximum of only 6 to 7 hours of rest in a 24 hour period – resulting in the physiological equivalent of a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05,” he said.
It is also time for a genuinely national approach to heavy vehicle regulation, including for heavy vehicle driver licensing, Byrne added.
“A national driver licensing system can stipulate the skills and competencies required to safely drive a heavy vehicle, including how to restrain a load and how to fill out a work diary,” he said.
A second critical step is the introduction an operator licensing system, Byrne said.
“Where operators in maritime, rail and aviation must all demonstrate their safety and competence before they can operate, in road transport virtually anyone with a truck, a driver and an ABN can be a road freight operator,” he said.
“This makes Australia unusual: most comparable countries have an operator licensing system for road transport.”
For example, in the UK, road transport operators must pass a “fit and proper” person test, prove they have the funds to maintain vehicles, and employ transport managers who understand what compliance looks like.
Third, Byrne said the community, government, enforcement and road safety bodies must also play an important part.
“Through NTI data, we know that in 93 per cent of fatalities involving a truck, the other party was at fault,” he said.
“Yet national and state road safety strategies are silent on how light vehicle drivers can ‘share the road’ safely with trucks.”
As such, there is an opportunity to ensure that drivers are educated on driving safely around trucks, such as safe stopping distances and over-taking, as part of licensing schemes.
Fourth, Byrne said that by pulling the right policy levers, government can incentivise and reward safe behaviours from heavy vehicle operators.
For example, discounted registration and stamp duty fees could be offered to operators with sound safety records.
“Government can also mandate investment in newer, safer more sustainable fleet,” he said. “Technologies such as autonomous emergency braking systems, lane departure warning systems and electronic stability control can save up to 104 lives per year but are taking too long to become standard in the fleet.”
The average age of a heavy rigid truck in Australia is 15.7 years while the average age of an articulated truck is 11.9 years, according to Byrne, who said an operator licensing system could stipulate a maximum vehicle age or offer subsidies/incentives to safe operators to deploy these life-saving technologies.
A fifth important step is to mandate telematics, which includes GPS and black box technology, for all new heavy vehicles.
“Enforcement of the rules is tough in Australia because of the vast distances between towns,” said Byrne.
“There are not enough police to catch every driver and operator that puts other road users at risk.”
Mandatory telematics on every vehicle will identify operators that systematically and deliberately speed, overload vehicles and push fatigue limits, and Byrne said removing operators that refuse to do the right thing protects the community and allows good operators to remain competitive.
The final and sixth step is to ensure that transport industry operators are actively engaged in any debate and policy development pertaining to road safety and heavy vehicles.
“Any discussion on heavy vehicle regulation must draw on private sector expertise to truly understand how we can overcome the obstacles that are holding us back from creating safer roads for our community,” he said.