Should Australia have wider trucks and trailers?

By: Steve Skinner


Whether Australia should go the way of Europe and the US was debated at a recent conference

Should Australia have wider trucks and trailers?
Dr Owen Arndt says there is pressure on Transport and Main Roads to reduce road width.

The width limit for trucks and trailers in Australia is 2.5m metres, but in Europe it’s 2.55m and up to 2.6m and in the United States it’s 2.6m.

That situation throws up all sorts of major pros and cons to do with truck and road costs, fuel use, safety and local manufacturing.

A panel discussion on widths was held on day one of the recent Commercial Vehicle Engineering and Technical Conference (ComVec), held by the Commercial Vehicle Industry Association of Queensland.  

THE CASE FOR

Speaking in favour of going wider was Mark Hammond, chief technical officer with the Truck Industry Council, which represents the truck manufacturers and importers in Australia.

"Even though we have truck manufacturers here in Australia – who hopefully will stay, unlike the car manufacturers – they are somewhat limited in what they can do," Hammond says, referring to Kenworth, Volvo/Mack and Iveco.

"They do a reasonable amount of local design, but core components like chassis, increasingly cabs, axles, things like that, all come from overseas and they’re built into the truck here in Australia."  

Other heavy duty trucks are fully imported, in the case of the Daimler brands including Freightliner and Mercedes-Benz, Scania, MAN and so on.  

"With a third of our trucks coming from Europe and a third of our trucks coming from America, with globalisation and I guess a finite level of resources, it's going to become harder and harder to re-engineer or rejig trucks that are predominantly made at 2.55m wide and 2.6m wide and bring them here into Australia and squeeze them down to 2.5m," Hammond says.  

"And that's going to have impacts in a number of areas – safety, environment, fuel economy – and certainly it's going to limit the choice of trucks that you will be able to buy in Australia.

Not only that, adds Hammond: "There’s no doubt that if we could bring what’s being built in America and Europe to Australia without modifications, we would have cheaper trucks."

THE CASE AGAINST

Putting the counter-argument was Dr Owen Arndt from the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads.

Arndt says the issue boils down to resources, and his road design section doesn’t hold the purse strings in the department.

"We don't have a lot of money," he says.  

"That means everything we do is trying to squeeze everything up.

"There is pressure on us to actually reduce road width in many situations," he concedes.

"If we are overlaying existing roads, picking up the pavement – and often we have to do that to suit the heavy vehicle loads – what we do is sometimes even narrow the formation to try and get an overlay on top of that existing road, because we just don't have the money to go and get all our roads up to a wider standard."

Arndt rattled off some other examples of "the competing pressures we get in the road design space".

They include retrofitting narrower lanes on urban roads to try and get more lanes and more car capacity on motorways, retrofitting narrower lanes to create bicycle lanes and retrofitting narrower lanes to make room for bus lanes.

And here’s the punchline: "There's enough literature around the world and within Australia to show that the narrower a road gets, the higher the crash rate," Arndt says.

"All I can say from our experience is that if you did have increased truck width, you would probably have marginally decreased safety…it’s not something we can quantify."

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