The failure of 'drag net' enforcement

In an opinion piece originally posted to LinkedIn, industry Safety Accelerator Daniel Elkins talks about the current heavy vehicle enforcement approach.

The failure of 'drag net' enforcement
Police and RMS officers inspect a heavy vehicle.


It is great disappointment and a definite sense of deja vu that I come away with from reading this article. It prompted a very famous quote to come to mind:

Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error. Marcus Tullius Cicero

For decades enforcement agencies have espoused intelligence-led policing. I see none of it being applied in the heavy vehicle enforcement space.

Without any understanding of the causal factors behind the recent spate of tragic incidents, NSW enforcement agencies plan to repeat what has clearly failed to work in the past.

What did NSW glean from the half a million vehicles it inspected the previous year? Surely, an analysis of the vast amount of data collected during these inspections, let alone that collected in previous years, should indicate not only the highest risks but which locations, vehicles, drivers and operators pose the highest risk?

To claim that NSW has the most comprehensive heavy vehicle safety and compliance system is questionable – based on what – total number of intercepts or the outcomes of their enforcement efforts?

Where is the data to support the comprehensiveness of the NSW approach – that is, the injuries prevented and the lives saved?

Instead, enforcement agencies over the coming days will subject the entire industry travelling in NSW, where the vast majority of operators are compliant, with the burden of having their vehicle intercepted on the off chance that there may be some irregularity.

In the main the vast majority of non-conformance will be minor with no risk to road safety.

That doesn’t suggest any comprehension of the problem, it is a massive drag net that may result in a handful of grossly inadequate vehicles or non-compliant drivers/operators being discovered.

Will a cost/benefit analysis be conducted on the outcomes of this operation? Surely, this isn’t unreasonable to expect? To demonstrate how such enforcement approaches, provide meaningful benefits to the community and in particular the heavy vehicle industry.

We have seen similar operations conducted in the past such as Austrans and the like which have never provided any published data on the outcomes, just the rates of non-conformance. There has, to my knowledge, never been a longitudinal study or analysis conducted on the benefits of Austrans. Yet it is rolled out year after year – for what demonstrated benefit to road safety?

It is preposterous that responsible ministers accept this type of enforcement as an effective use of the publics and industries resources.

It is even more of a shame that industry accept such enforcement approaches, particularly given the technology at the disposal of enforcement agencies to not only identify vehicles and operators but access to vast amounts of compliance data. More importantly, by analysing, researching and publishing this data it can assist industry in developing its own approaches to safety.

What is required is to grasp the problem and that begins with understanding the causal factors related to serious injury and death.

If it were understood, surely, we would be seeing far more targeted enforcement approaches? It appears such work isn’t being undertaking to develop new approaches.

The National Heavy Vehicle Roadworthiness Program was a first step in attempting to assess the link between mechanical failure, roadworthiness and the likelihood of an incident occurring due to mechanical failure. Other than an initial cursory report on the National Roadworthiness Baseline Survey, work seems to have stalled on this essential research.

Recent calls for a revolution in heavy vehicle safety is a curious position for industry to adopt.

Why is such as forcible overthrow required, this suggests an utter failure at all levels? The creation of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) was meant to signal the catalyst for such change. The NHVR has four key objectives, primarily; environment, efficiency, productivity and safety. Is it not the role of the NHVR to be the single national entity responsible for heavy vehicle safety?

The white elephant in the room is the absence of any meaningful response from the NHVR about how it is going to address serious injury and death in the heavy vehicle industry.

In this silence what we then get is the types of responses we are now seeing in NSW.

In recent debate on the issue of safety the distinct lack of reference to the NHVR by the media and industry brings into question the relevance the community and industry place on the NHVR to deliver on safety.

This isn’t the time to be proposing new committees or agencies to address safety in the heavy vehicle industry. In fact, it is the time to reduce and consolidate them to increase focus and accountability for addressing safety.

Without a single accountable agency to address safety success in achieving a reduction in series injury and death will continue to be extremely difficult.

The focus should be on ensuring that the NHVR has the appropriate support and funding to implement effective strategies to address the primary risks associated with the transport task in conjunction with industry.

It is certainly not the time to over react to a series of incidents which have yet to establish the causal factors that eventuated in such tragic consequences. Undertaking blanket enforcement activity without understanding what risks should be your focus is simply draconian and perpetuates a failed and outdated method of enforcement.

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