Committee wants changes to NSW trucking industry

NSW parliamentary committee urges widespread changes to trucking industry, including driver training, roadside enforcement and vehicle design standards

Committee wants changes to NSW trucking industry
Committee pushes for widespread changes to NSW trucking
By Brad Gardner | September 28, 2010

A NSW parliamentary committee is urging widespread reform of the trucking industry, including changes to driver training, enforcement and vehicle design standards.

The Joint Standing Committee on Road Safety has released its inquiry into heavy vehicle safety, listing 18 recommendations it says will deliver greater safety benefits.

Citing government statistics, the report says trucks are involved in more than 21 percent of fatal crashes despite accounting for 2.1 percent of registered vehicles.

It says a recent Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) survey found 37.7 percent of trucks exceeded 100km/h speed limits last year, while data show 15 percent of fatalities are speed related.

Made up of Independents, Labor and Liberal politicians, the Committee wants drivers subjected to mandatory refresher training courses every three years in line with European standards.

"In Europe, there is a requirement that all heavy vehicle drivers undergo at least 100 hours of refresher training every three years," the report says, adding that 80 percent of the time can be amassed in a simulator.

"Although not yet a requirement in Australia, this should be considered in order to increase driver competencies and assist in professional development."

To meet this, the Committee recommends an increase in funding to support the expansion of driver simulators throughout NSW.

With the RTA signalling intent to mandatory truck monitoring, the committee has backed the use of electronic work diaries for fatigue and speed compliance.

"Electronic vehicle monitoring enables remote tracking of compliance with regulatory obligations concerning speed, routes taken, driving hours and rest stops," the report says.

It wants the RTA to release the findings of its trial and to implement the devices across the industry if appropriate.

In proposals that could financially affect a litany of trucking companies, the RTA is being asked to "lobby strongly" for changes to Australian Design Standards.

The Committee wants a redesign of existing bull bar conditions and for the RTA to force trucking companies to install under-run protection devices to prevent cars from going under a heavy vehicle in a crash.

"Incompatible and aggressive heavy vehicle design features are significant factors in determining crash severity," the report says.

"Two major identified design flaws are front mounted bull bars and the lack of side skirting protection to prevent under-run into the side of trucks."

Discussions are already underway on mandating anti-lock brakes for trucks over three tonnes, a move the Committee labels a welcome development and one that should go further.

It wants the RTA to lobby for the inclusion of electronic stability control, adaptive cruise control and lane assist in future heavy vehicle Australian Design Standards.

The Committee has recommended the introduction of a five-star rating system for trucking companies, a scheme championed by industry identity Ron Finemore.

The RTA is currently working on developing a system where trucking companies are rated according to safety criteria. Those that gain a higher rating will be able to use it as a marketing tool to secure contracts.

Finemore also wants companies with a high rating to receive money to cover training costs. He proposes the funds be drawn from an industry-wide levy.

The report also calls for the RTA to impose new enforcement practices to crack down on Safe-T-Cam offenders.

Introduced to reduce speed and fatigue breaches in the trucking industry, Safe-T-Cam detects a number plate to determine if the truck driver is breaking the speed limit or regulations on driving hours.

During public hearings, committee members were told some trucks tailgate to avoid numberplate recognition by the cameras in a process known as ‘shepherding’.

"One such solution would be to identify trucks that travel too closely behind one another and impose automatic fines for this practice," the report says.

During public hearings the Director of the Centre for Road Safety, Dr Soames Job, told the Committee the RTA was aware of trucks trying to avoid detection.

"We are very much aware of it and it occasionally happens. However, there is not a great deal a safety camera per se can do about it," he says.

The RTA recently reviewed the effectiveness of the Safe-T-Cam operation but it has not yet released its findings, according to the report.

However, the RTA is currently investigating ways to prevent truck drivers from tampering with speed limiters.

Currently, a truck commits a speed limiter offence when it is caught travelling at more than 115km/h. The RTA told the Committee it is planning to reduce the speed to 110km/h and improve enforcement measures.

But the RTA has also been criticised in the report, particularly over its approach to the poor state of sections of the road network.

"From the vantage point of individual heavy vehicle operators, there is some frustration at the lack of responsiveness by the RTA and local councils to reports of unsafe road surfaces," the report says.

It recommends the RTA implement a tracking system to monitor road conditions on routes frequented by heavy vehicles.

According to the Committee, the technology will improve maintenance scheduling and give trucking operators greater assurance about a road’s suitability for heavy vehicles.

It wants the RTA to hold talks with council representatives and the trucking industry about a lack of adequate parking facilities in local government areas.

"Strategies should also be developed to encourage key towns along major highways to assist in providing new infrastructure and allow access to existing facilities for truck drivers," the report says.

It goes on to say there are concerns in the trucking industry that not enough funds are being spent on rest areas to help drivers manage their fatigue management obligations.

The Committee says there is a list of design and location standards that must be considered, including sealed spaces, toilets and showers, food facilities and shade.

Trucking identity and road safety advocate Rod Hannifey addressed committee members earlier this year over a lack of sufficient rest areas.

He called for divided rest areas to separate linehaul from short-haul drivers and for truckies to be given access to areas restricted to general motorists.

Hannifey gained the support of the Committee for campaign to have blue reflectors installed on the roadside to notify truck drivers of unmarked rest areas.

"These informal rest opportunities have been welcomed by drivers and should be extended, as appropriate, in more locations to assist in overall fatigue management," the report says.

It says Victoria is currently considering a similar scheme using green reflectors to differentiate rest areas from water points, which use blue reflectors.

"The Committee understands the RTA is currently in discussions with VicRoads with a view to standardising the colour used to mark these areas across state boundaries," it says.

As well as improvements to driver training, the report recommends greater investment in counselling services for truck drivers.

The Committee says a lack of services for truck drivers was raised with it earlier thus year when it visited the not-for-profit group, Trans-Help.

Founded by CEO Dianne Carroll, Trans-Help provides crisis support and helps drivers suffering depression and conducts mobile health checks.

Noting the work it does, the report says dedicated counselling and crisis support services should be more widely available. It wants the RTA to engage with the trucking industry on how the services should be delivered.

The report recommends greater funding for help lines and initiatives to directly assist drivers in need.

Trans-Help earlier this year suffered a funding shortfall, fearing it would hinder its ability to help drivers.

NatRoad and the Transport Workers Union have donated money to keep the service going.

The report also highlighted problems in the RTA’s communication strategies. It found the department did not always provide information about legislative changes in an efficient or timely manner.

It recommends the RTA and WorkCover NSW ensure any communication strategy to educate operators be conducted after extensive consultation with representative groups and the supply chain.

Although focusing on NSW, the report does advocate the importance of national transport regulations which are due to be introduced in 2013.

It says the establishment of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator should be supported by all states territories because it will improve safety, productivity and efficiency.

"A consistent theme running through the inquiry is the complexity and inherent inconsistencies in the current heavy vehicle safety regulatory regime," the Committee notes in the report.

Formed earlier this year, the Committee also looked at the Bluecard training program, which has been opposed by the employers on the basis it duplicates requirements under fatigue management law. The Transport Workers Union told the Committee the scheme improved training standards.

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