Mullighan tightens SE Freeway truck safety approach

Photography by: Brad Gardner

Most coronial recommendations get green light after probe into trucks losing control on descent

Mullighan tightens SE Freeway truck safety approach
Stephen Mullighan has backed most recommendations.


Challenging aspects of coronial advice following recent South Eastern Freeway tragedies have failed to progress under the South Australian government’s response.

Most of SA deputy coroner Anthony Schapel’s recommendations were accepted and acted upon, transport and infrastructure Minister Stephen Mullighan’s official response notes.

But Schapel’s full take on what was needed to avoid repeat fatalities on the long descent included trucking-related actions the industry warned at the time would face difficulties.

Making it compulsory for heavy vehicle driver to be accompanied by trained and experience driver on first descent of freeway was found to be not feasible due to the regulatory burden for industry and government and the difficulty interstate drivers on a national highway would face.

Demonstrating freeway descent competence to a trained instructor before a heavy vehicle licence can be issued lost out as the current number of authorised examiners is unable to meet demand for drivers requiring training and would also require training of existing licence holders.

However, compulsory specific training and demonstration of driving freeway descent and using low gear to get heavy vehicle licence has seen new training measures implemented and is being introduced, though the government believes it is not practical to force all drivers to train on the freeway, Mullighan says.  

Trialling a reduced speed limit of 40km/h for heavy vehicles and 80km/h for light vehicles on the descent lost out to traffic modelling showing safety risks of any further reductions, including blocking entry to second safety ramp.

And an investigation into mandatory stopping station before the Heysen Tunnels was backed but that failed to back the idea due to physical constraints.

Against that, nine other recommendations were backed or supported in principle, with two of those – signage and an education campaign on contravention of the low-gear rule– were implemented.

Schapel made 17 recommendations in his findings into the death of truck driver James Venning, who was killed when his truck crashed at the bottom of the freeway in January 2014.

Headline responses potential jail terms for drivers ignoring low-gear and speed limits on the freeway and a mandatory truck inspection regime.

"These terrible crashes came at the cost of innocent lives and revealed the tragic consequences of unsafe vehicles and unsafe driving on the steep freeway descent," Mullighan says.

"The government supports the deputy coroner’s recommendation that drivers of heavy vehicles speeding on the freeway down-track should be charged with dangerous driving.

"We are pursuing legislative amendments to allow for this meaning the drivers could be jailed.

"Laws will also be investigated to make it possible for drivers to be imprisoned for breaching the Australian Road Rule 108, which requires heavy vehicles to use low gear on the freeway descent instead of relying on their brakes."

The government will work with industry and road safety groups to design an inspection program for heavy vehicles.

"We are committed to working closely with all stakeholders and the community to design a scheme that strikes a balance between the safety of all road users and the livelihoods of truck drivers and operators," Mullighan says.

"Currently a truck can go through its entire working life without ever being independently inspected – that is unacceptable."

Though the state government backs for heavy vehicle maintenance and roadworthiness exposure to the chain of responsibility nationally, it is unclear if that extends to opening offenders to insurance claims for victims death or injury.

New state and national heavy vehicle inspection regimes are being acted upon.

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