Researchers call for systems analysis of truck crashes

Intervention dovetails with industry desire for change in accident investigation

Researchers call for systems analysis of truck crashes
Two leading researchers want truck accidents investigated in a systems basis


Two senior accident researchers have called for a change in truck accident investigations, saying present heavy focus on drivers is narrow and simplistic.

In an opinion piece carried by The Conversation website titled Don’t just blame the driver – there’s more than one cause of fatal truck crashes, Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) senior research fellow Sharon Newnam and University of the Sunshine Coast senior research fellow Natassia Goode argue, the causes of truck crashes involve too many factors for such an approach to be valuable or productive.

The intervention comes as the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) calls for such a change, renewing its backing for the use of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) and its practices to look into major truck accidents.

While not examining the ATSB option, the academics argue: "A rethink in the approach to road freight transport safety requires a shift from the driver-focused approach to a systems-thinking approach.

"A systems-thinking approach is underpinned by the idea that road freight transport crashes are caused by multiple, interacting factors within the system. Driver error is seen as the outcome of the interactions between these factors – and not as a cause of crashes.

"To maintain control over safety, the decisions and actions of government, regulatory bodies and road freight transport management must be informed by accurate information on the actual working conditions and the interacting factors influencing driver behaviour."

Newnam, Goode and other researchers examined 21 publicly available Australian coronial inquest reports into truck crashes between 2004 and 2014.

Their study, Reforming the road freight transportation system using systems thinking: An investigation of Coronial inquests in Australia, found the inquests "clearly identified the role of government, regulatory bodies, road safety authorities, the supply chain, freight companies, and freight drivers in crash causation.

"However, their recommendations were predominantly focused on fixing isolated components in the system, such as the decision-making of drivers and speed.

"A new approach to investigating truck crashes is urgently required to help shift the focus during crash investigations from driver behaviour onto the work system and beyond – to the supply chain, regulatory bodies, and government agencies.

"We need to stop blaming and start reforming the transportation industry using a systems-thinking approach.

"To do this, we need to design the methods and tools to collect the right data so that prevention efforts target the right elements in the transportation system – not just the truck driver or other road users.

"This should include developing an Australia-wide freight crash reporting and analysis system that is underpinned by systems thinking."

The full piece can be found here.


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