Coroner’s South Eastern Freeway calls ‘will struggle to get up’

By: Rob McKay

Two South Australian truck crash inquests result in 21 recommendations with some relating to interstate operations

Coroner’s South Eastern Freeway calls ‘will struggle to get up’
Steve Shearer says the industry supports the thrust of the recommendations.


While South Australian changes to how trucks use the South Eastern Freeway are underway, it is not certain how many coronial recommendations following inquests into two fatal semi-trailer crashes will be realised.

State transport and infrastructure minister Stephen Mullighan says some of SA deputy coroner Anthony Schapel’s recommendations were already being implemented.

But South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA) executive director Steve Shearer points to difficulties related to those with a national impact, such as training and supervision of drivers who have yet to make the descent, including for interstate drivers.

Noting the number and complexity of issues raised, Shearer says there are some "new propositions in there that haven’t been raise with us before or the [State] Government.

"Some of them might prove somewhat problematic, so we’re going to have to work through it and see how we go."

Schapel mkes 21 recommendations all up, 17 in the case of driver James Venning, 41, who died in his truck last January 18, and four relating to John Posnakidis, 42, who was also a truck driver but who died at a layby in 2010.

Amongst them are:

  • prison for drivers contravening section 108 of the Australian Road Rules, related to obeying low-gear signs on descents, as they apply to South Australia
  • bolstering the  law for exceeding the 60 km/h limit as driving in a manner dangerous to the public, causing death by such driving or causing serious bodily injury by such driving, regardless of the reason for that manner of driving
  • enabling the compulsory third party bodily injury insurer of a heavy vehicle to recover the amount of compensation paid in respect of death or bodily injury from the driver, his company and anyone in the chain of responsibility as a result of negligent driving on the section of the South-Eastern Freeway
  • mandatory tuition for trainee drivers on downhill gradients, including the use of safety ramps, and particularly training regarding the South-Eastern Freeway
  • first-time drivers, including interstate drivers, on their first descent to be accompanied by experienced drivers
  • drivers, including interstate drivers, to possess a certificate of demonstrated competence for the descent.

While supporting the thrust of the recommendations, the most controversial for Shearer was "the proposition that there’ll be jail time for people who don’t choose the right gear".

"I suspect the coroner’s not intending that to mean … a driver who makes a simple mistake as distinct to a driver who wilfully and negligently just ignores the rules and just goes for it," he says.

He also says those recommendations with cross-border implications and those demanding an accompanying driver "were not realistic".

"For a journey that only takes 10 minutes, you wouldn’t send [an extra] driver from Brisbane to Adelaide – and it’s largely unenforceable," Shearer says.

Schapel gave strong support to SARTA’s call for a 40km/h speed limit, saying it would "tend to dispel any false belief, particularly in the minds of inexperienced drivers, that a laden heavy vehicle such as a semi-trailer or B-double can safely negotiate the descent at a speed of 60 kilometres per hour when the reality may well be that the gear that would be required to maintain a vehicle at that speed would be too high such that the primary brake would need to be used.

"It makes perfect sense that a reduced speed limit would mitigate the risk of poor gear selection and the consequent excessive use of the primary brake leading to brake failure."

The point relates to the findings that both trucks’ gearboxes were in neutral at the time of the crashes.

Schapel notes that the idea has police and motorist organisation support, though departmental advice was that the light vehicle limit would have to fall from 90km/h to 80 km/h and that this "might not find favour with the general public".

This was discounted as an important consideration, given it would mean only a 43 second increase in time taken on the descent.

Shearer says SARTA is awaiting government computer modelling on the likely impact on traffic flows of the idea, which is due in some weeks.

The Posnadakis findings can be found here and the Venning findings can be found here.

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