Industry bodies call for more than blitzes

ATA says policing needs extended back-up as NatRoad critiques operation's approach

Industry bodies call for more than blitzes
Geoff Crouch sees a need for a long-term safety focus


Australia’s governments need to put in place long-term solutions to road safety as well as undertaking police blitzes, Australian Trucking Association (ATA) chair Geoff Crouch says.

Crouch was responding to the multi-state truck compliance operation announced today, Operation Rolling Thunder, a name that has raised the ire of the National Road Transport Association (NatRoad).

"In 2017, the number of deaths in NSW from crashes involving articulated trucks like semitrailers increased dramatically, but we know that most of the increase in deaths was in multi-vehicle crashes," he says.

"About 80 per cent of fatal multi-vehicle crashes involving trucks are not the fault of the truck driver.

"Truck compliance operations cannot possibly prevent these crashes, so governments need to take a broader, long term approach to safety as well as supporting police blitzes."

The ATA wants governments to:

  • encourage business to adopt comprehensive safety and risk management systems such as the ATA’s TruckSafe system
  • require contractors on government projects to hold safety accreditations or have similarly robust safety systems
  • extend the responsibilities of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) to include no-blame, independent safety investigations
  • consult genuinely on voluntary electronic work diaries
  • prioritise road infrastructure funding on the basis of road crash investigation findings
  • provide young drivers with information and education about how to share the road safely with trucks and
  • improve the quality of truck driver training and assessment.

The 80 per cent figure Crouch uses comes from a Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) 2016 information sheet, Heavy truck safety: crash analysis and trends.

"Available Australian evidence suggests that in approximately 80 per cent of fatal multiple-vehicle crashes involving heavy trucks, fault is not assigned to the heavy truck," the report states.

"Note however that assignment of fault (or key-vehicle-status) is not necessarily feasible for all crashes." 

NatRoad’s hard line

NatRoad questioned the premise of the operation and raised the issue of short-term thinking behind the blitz.

The industry body says it "understands why the police have decided to undertake Operation Rolling Thunder to address road safety.  The tragic loss of life on the nation’s roads is a problem that must be addressed.  But the premise on which Operation Rolling Thunder is based seems flawed. The road toll is a community concern and the Australian trucking industry should not be solely painted as the enemy."

It notes that the use of the name "Operation Rolling Thunder" has been repurposed from the massive bombing attack on North Vietnam undertaken by the Johnson administration of the United States during the Vietnam War.

NatRoad feels the name is inappropriate for enforcement operations in the 21st century and "is highly offensive to the Australian Trucking Industry. The metaphors of history should not be forgotten."

As part of the media commentary on this issue Commander of NSW Police Traffic & Highway Patrol Command, Assistant Commissioner Michael Corboy said: "We simply cannot stand by and accept that dangerous trucks are on our roads and are causing people to die."

In response, CEO of NatRoad Warren Clark says: "The road toll is not going to be reduced in a context of blaming the truck industry in isolation for the regrettable deaths that occur on Australia’s roads. 

"In fact, the statistics show that in collisions involving fatalities the truck was not at fault on 93% of occasions.  The statistics also show that in an analysis of truck crash incidents mechanical failures were inconsequential with a 3.5 per cent incident level. 

"In that context, tyre failure accounted for 52 per cent of losses attributed to a mechanical fault.

"NatRoad is very concerned about the recent spike in serious truck accidents in NSW. We have not seen this spike in other States, which are subject to the same heavy vehicle safety standards and fatigue management rules, so we must find out whether the problem is unique to NSW. Objective and concerted investigation of the recent incidents is essential.

"We offer our co-operation to the police but short-term solutions based on blaming the industry are not going to assist a long-term problem.  Enhanced drug and alcohol testing of light vehicles should go hand-in-hand with increased enforcement of the law relating to the heavy vehicle industry.  It is the behaviour of other drivers around heavy vehicles that requires attention, a matter that is best solved through education especially at the stage of getting a licence to drive.

"We also need to invest more in accident investigation to find out why incidents in NSW are increasing compared with other States and Territories.  It is time for all authorities to fully support the new chain of responsibility laws that will come into force this year, laws which spread the responsibility for controlling on-road risk to other parties in the supply chain.  These laws will do exactly what I required - take the heat off the driver and place responsibility for controlling risk with the party best able to take that step.

"NatRoad is also calling for a dedicated authority such as the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) to promptly and fully investigate serious truck accidents and to share the results and recommendations publicly so that we can all take the appropriate action to stop these tragedies. 

"Isolated law enforcement blitzes are useful to focus attention on the problem but are not a solution in the long term."

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