Hard sell needed to get public support for trucks

New survey of public perceptions of trucks shows a lot of work needs to be done to gain community support

Hard sell needed to get public support for trucks
Hard sell needed to get public support for trucks
By Brad Gardner | November 18, 2010

The trucking industry will need to do more to sell itself to the public after a new survey revealed concerns over "aggressive" and "cowboy" drivers and higher productivity vehicles.

A study commissioned by the National Transport Commission (NTC) shows a poor perception of trucking, including views that B-doubles are more dangerous than semi-trailers and performance based standards (PBS) vehicles will damage the road network.

Synovate, which surveyed 1500 people from urban and regional areas, says respondents associated the industry with words such as speed, pollution, intimidating and unsecured loads.

"In the main, feelings about freight vehicles are associated with perceptions of ‘aggressive’ driving by the truckies," Synovate says in its study.

"On the other hand the driving public may experience a sense of frustration at the inability of the large vehicle to maintain what they perceive as an appropriate speed in other situations."

Less than half of respondents (44 percent) mostly supported PBS, which requires operators to pass stringent safety and design standards before being allowed to use larger vehicles on the road.

According to the survey, 37 percent had no opinion on the scheme while 7 percent opposed it. Another 12 percent were very concerned about the freight task and saw PBS as a solution.

The PBS scheme is seen as a vital key in boosting the efficiency and productivity of the freight task by cutting down on the number of truck trips, reducing road wear and improving safety.

"General public has very low awareness of PBS at this time but is very positive to the messages on increased safety, better economic performance and less effect on the environment," Synovate says.

It has urged stakeholders to get proactive in selling PBS, including ways to notify the public of its benefits.

"NTC should consider ‘badging’ vehicles that are PBS compliant to both further communicate the PBS scheme to the public but also act as a visual reassurance to drivers and increase support for the PBS scheme," Synovate says.

Operators might also need to pay more attention to the prime movers they use, with respondents having a poor perception of aggressive-looking rigs.

"The public perceive that aggressive looking freight vehicles are likely to be driven by ‘cowboys’ with little regard for others on the road. This perception then strengthens the apprehension felt when passing or being passed by freight vehicles," Synovate says.

"Attitude to freight vehicle and freight driver are closely linked in public perception and there is some concern that attention to one without attention to the other would see little change in public concerns."

Despite the findings, Synovate adds that trucks and the importance of the freight task are not "top of mind" concerns for drivers.

The survey found respondents were more comfortable travelling near smaller trucks up to the size of a semi-trailer due to a perception that B-doubles take longer to stop, cause more damage to roads and are more likely to roll over.

"These longer vehicles also require more time to overtake, making the general public drivers feel more vulnerable when trying to pass them on an open road. Generally the driving public try to avoid being near trucks while on the road," Synovate says.

There was a particular dislike of livestock trucks, with one person surveyed saying: "I hate travelling behind them the smell is horrible and you don’t want their poop to fly off at you".

Synovate says people also showed emotional concerns about live animals being transported in confined spaces.

Respondents raised concerns about the load safety of log trucks, with one saying they worry the logs will fall off because they do not look secure.

There was a mixed response to petrol tankers, with Synovate reporting that some believe they are risky due to flammable liquids while others felt they had the highest safety standards.

Following the release of the study, NTC CEO Nick Dimopoulos claimed there was a common misperception of PBS.

"Bigger trucks don’t necessarily mean more damage…in many cases [they] are less damaging as they can move freight more efficiently," he says.

The NTC is currently looking at ways to improve the scheme, including reducing the administrative burden on companies and handing over the responsibility of it to the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, which will be running in 2013.

"PBS vehicles are often greener and safer than the existing heavy vehicle fleet. By using more flexible and safe vehicle design, these vehicles can also carry more freight," Dimopoulos says.

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