TWU highlights fatality risk to Senate inquiry

Committee’s Aspects of Road Safety probe also gains new crash costs report

TWU highlights fatality risk to Senate inquiry
Alex Gallacher questions the state of road safety planning


The Transport Workers Union (TWU) has used a Senate committee inquiry into truck driver training and other industry matters to round on the federal government on the safety of drivers.

With Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee’s Aspects of Road Safety probe also addressing exploitation of foreign drivers and working visas, and the union sought to link such malpractice with industry’s dismal workplace fatality rate.

"Almost 40 per cent of all workplace deaths this year involve transport workers," TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon says.

"In the past year, deaths from articulated trucks are up 7.2 per cent and deaths from heavy rigid vehicles are up 4.1 per cent."

Sheldon accused the government of allowing labour agreements that let transport operators to bring in overseas transport workers to pay them less.

The union argues this exploitation is causing a race to the bottom in transport leading to drivers being paid low rates and pressured to drive long hours and causing a spike to deaths from truck crashes. 

It also repeated its ongoing Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) abolition criticism.

New report

The union’s RSTR position gained backing in a report drafted for Labor senator, former TWU state secretary and road safety campaigner Alex Gallacher by Frederick Litchfield, an intern with the Australian National Internships Program at the Australian National University.

The report, The cost of road crashes in Australia 2016: An overview of safety strategies, seeks to build on research by the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) in 2009 to calculate the total social costs of road crashes.  

It updates the costs for 2016 using new fatality and injury data, and includes estimates of the cost of property damage, including for heavy-duty trucks.

"This report used a willingness to pay method of estimating the cost of road crashes, with the outcome being an average cost per fatality of $7.8 million, cost per serious injury of $310,094 and cost per minor injury of $3,057," the report reads.

"It was found that property damage costs increased 36.5 per cent including inflation relative to 2006, as a result of higher insurance administration costs and vehicle repair costs, of which 22 per cent are borne by heavy trucks.

"On this basis, the total social cost of road crashes in Australia for 2016 was $33.16 billion. $9.38 billion in property damage costs, $10.2 billion in fatality costs and $13.58 billion in injury costs.

"This is a total increase from 2006 of 22 per cent, which is less than overall CPI, but still equates to 2 per cent of GDP."

There were 1295 fatalities from road crashes in Australian for 2016. The report’s analysis shows that this is a 19 per cent decrease from 10 years ago in 2006, but is a 13 per cent increase on the lowest fatality year of 2014.

Since 2006, Australia has fallen from 14 out of 34 to 17 out of 34 in OECD rankings for fatalities per capita.

Fatalities per 1 billion vehicle kilometres travelled were 5.19 in 2016 and fatalities per 100,000 people were 5.4.

Heavy trucks were involved in 14.7 per cent of fatalities in 2016, despite making up 3.13 per cent of registered vehicles and 7.2 per cent of vehicle kilometres travelled.

RSRT call

In a position sure to be rejected by the RSRT’s opponents, the report calls for the creation of an "equivalent" to be examined. 

"The RSRT was abolished in 2016 by the Turnbull Government under a cloud of political debate," it asserts, though without analysis.

"One argument was that the increased regulations made owner drivers less competitive 35 in the industry and some were forced out of a job.

"If one compares this outcome with loss of life and increase in serious injury for not only drivers, but also the wider public, then it is clear which should have more support.

"The abolition of the RSRT is regrettable for road safety and shows poor leadership at the government level in Australia.

"NTI (2015) found that fatigue was responsible for 13 per cent of truck crashes, while mechanical faults were the cause of 5 per cent.

"These are outcomes that the RSRT sought to mitigate.

"This report argues for an equivalent of the RSRT to again be put on the political agenda."

In his contribution to a mid-month adjournment debate, senator Gallacher praised Litchfield’s efforts and took a swipe at the federal Department of Infrastructure and, by extension, the government over spending priorities.

Gallacher says of the report: "It gives me that underpinning evidence so that, when I go to estimates and I ask the department, 'Why didn't you spend $24 million allocated in the budget to road safety?' and they do not have a coherent answer, it makes me believe that we do not have a coherent strategy in the national department in respect of road safety.

"If the officers attending estimates are unable to tell any senator why a measly $24 million was not able to be spent in a year when we have a cost to the economy of two per cent of GDP—in excess of $32 billion – I find that absolutely extraordinary."

The full report can be found here.

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