Opinion: Steer on the year

By: Rob McKay

The past 11 months hold the promise of pivotal change in trucking


The 'Forward Vision' column is rarely involved in "the year in review"-type cogitations but this past one has been so intriguing, it’s hard to resist.

Though rough and simplistic about issues in this notoriously involved and complex industry, let’s look at a few and divide them into those driven by government and non-government impetuses, while recognising that few are ever purely one or the other.

The digitalisation of the vehicle and the task is a deeply private-enterprise pursuit – one, however, that is being helped and hindered by support in some regulatory quarters and the slow pace of others elsewhere, not least with the legal side where it is unavoidable.

Certainly there are aspects of design rules and road laws involved in truck make-up but governments are playing catch-up here.

Interestingly smaller-state governments, seeking a point of difference from the big two, have made the regulatory and investment environment running on vehicle automation, leaving NSW and Victoria looking a little flat-footed early on.

But they were only able to do so because they had companies with the wherewithal to make it happen.

Internationally, amongst these have been the original equipment makers (OEMs), with their integrated on-board communications and telematics systems.

Other telematics suppliers both locally and abroad are in on the act to be sure.

But it is the OEMs, established and new, that put rubber and metal on the road in convoys guided by telemetry and which put autonomous driving on an agenda rolling swiftly towards making the future now.

This year saw the first hints that this would be a trucking ‘swift’, rather than, say, a mobile phone ‘swift’, with an acceptance becoming more publically flagged worldwide that the creation of a social licence and an acceptable liability regime mean drivers will be ‘assisted’ rather than superseded, at least on the open road and at least in the medium/longer-term.

Another development for which 2017 may be seen as a pivotal year is electric propulsion for heavy trucks.

Here is a step trucking as a business failed to clamour for but is being taken anyway.                               

The timing is terrible as this column is being written because the Tesla Semi is still under wraps and Elon Musk and his brains trust are yet to be seen squaring the circles of battery payload restraints and long-haul capacity.

To be sure, Musk has other OEMs snapping at his heels and the lighter end of this market is getting quite crowded but this year will show which direction and at what pace change will happen.

Some may look askance at chain of responsibility (COR) being nominated as a 2017 issue but actions this year will decide how successful the broadening of explicit responsibilities will be.

Critics, including Forward Vision, see the past decade as showing the concepts name to be a misnomer.

’Link of Responsibility’ has been the rule for the past decade, with only a handful of low-profile, barely known cases holding the hope it will grow a few more.

How the authorities can expect to gain an economy-wide appreciation of the potential risks without breaking their cardinal rule that naming even the worst rule-breaker or bad element must be avoided at all cost is anyone’s guess.

Actions speak louder than words here and it hasn’t escaped the industry’s attention that the action remains weighted heavily in one direction – and that’s just in NSW where laws as they stand at least are seen to be done.

Enforcement in other states is so low profile as to be commercial in confidence, with the industry suspecting little more than a confidence trick.

Worth remembering the old but true maxim that it is the certainly of getting caught that gives malefactors cause for pause and contemplation.

If they know of no one who is, (bad) business as usual must continue, and there is little more certain than they’ve got ‘better’ things to do than read ATN to learn about things.

Let’s hope a cunning plan was formulated this year to ‘encourage’ such people and their companies.

This article is part of ATN's December edition. Subscribe here.

You can also follow our updates by joining our LinkedIn group or liking us on Facebook