Opinion: The path to safer trucks and trailers

By: Todd Hacking

Incentivising the uptake of safety technologies is the right road for the industry’s future

Opinion: The path to safer trucks and trailers
Todd Hacking


Road safety is everyone’s responsibility:  the people who design, build and maintain roads; the people who use the road network, such as drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists; the people who import or manufacture vehicles; the people who police road user behaviour and of course those responsible for implementing policy, laws and regulations pertaining to road use and road safety.

As an association that advocates for the businesses that design, import, manufacture and distribute heavy vehicles and supply components for trucks and trailers, Heavy Vehicle Industry Australia (HVIA) is at the forefront of showcasing innovation, technology and the latest safety features.

Our members are constantly innovating and developing ways to make their vehicles safer.  Sometimes this is mandated through the Australian Design Rules (ADRs) but often this is voluntary and is part of being a good corporate citizen. 

The fact is that heavy vehicles rolling off the assembly line in 2018 are the safest yet, and as the industry continues to innovate and invest in design and technology, the safety features will continue to advance in future years.

This advancement in safety is also true for passenger vehicles. In spite of these safer vehicles operating on better performing roads and at safer speeds, Australia is not seeing the requisite downward trend on the road toll.

Read how HVIA flagged its intention to push for new truck incentives, here

The tragic reality is that last year 1,227 people died on Australian roads.  Sadly, this also includes 185 people from accidents involving a heavy vehicle.  These deaths are largely preventable. 

As such, HVIA has asked itself: what more can be done to reduce road fatalities?  I’m proud that our members have come up with a series of priority actions which we have now released as part of a new campaign –Safer Trucks & Trailers: Incentivising the Uptake of Safety Technologies.  

This action plan argues that the highest priority is a deliberate strategy of targeting older vehicles in the fleet, reducing the age of the fleet by doing so, or incentivising the retrofit of available safety technologies to improve heavy vehicle safety.

I know not all heavy vehicle operators are able to regularly upgrade their fleet, but it is fair to ask the question, after nearly three decades of sustained and continual growth, how does Australia have one of the oldest heavy vehicle fleets in the western world?

Australia’s average fleet age is over 14 years. In fact, 16 per cent of the fleet (some 73,000 vehicles) are aged between 15 and 22 years old. 

This compares to European nations such as UK, Germany, France, Netherlands and Austria with an average age of approximately eight years.

We know these older vehicles are less safe than their modern counterparts.  We know these vehicles are not captured by amendments to the ADRs.  We know these vehicles continue to be use our roads every day. 

It is these trucks and trailers that we need to target in a concerted road safety campaign and HVIA contends the most effective way to do so, is by using government major contracts to incentivise the uptake of safety features. 

In doing so, it is important not to mandate or prescribe these features, but instead to creatively devise a bonus or weighting system through the tender process, which promotes and rewards operators that choose to invest in safety features.

By targeting older vehicles, HVIA is a not suggesting slowing down progress through the ADRs, if anything this should be expedited, but we must acknowledge that safety features in most instances take 30, 40, even 50 years to become universal in the fleet.

Take ABS braking systems: truck manufacturers started offering ABS brakes in the early 1990’s and by the mid 2000’s it was a fairly common feature, yet it didn’t become mandated in the ADRs until 2016. At last check, it has been predicted ABS won’t be universal in the fleet until 2035.

HVIA supports the Federal Government’s National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020 and the Road Safety Action Plan 2018-20 which was released in May. 

More recently Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack has proposed a new Office of Future Transport Technologies, to help prepare for the impending arrival of automated vehicles and other transport innovations.

These are important strategic initiatives aimed at making our roads safer.  We also support the changes to ADR’s 35 and 38 to introduce mandatory Electronic Stability Control and Roll Control and the introduction of Autonomous Emergency Braking Systems.

HVIA’s road safety plan also advocates for ensuring that Performance Based Standards (PBS) is only available to vehicles that meet the minimum braking requirements - predominantly by the inclusion of ABS and EBS with roll control on all new PBS combinations.  

It seems only fair that if an operator is getting a productivity gain that we use this economic incentive to ensure the truck features the latest safety equipment.

HVIA applauds state and territory ministers at the last Transport and Infrastructure Council (TIC), meeting for their proactive response.  Action 4 of the TIC communique states: "increase the deployment of Autonomous Emergency Braking in both heavy and light vehicles".  Recent analysis by Monash University Accident Research Centre suggests this technology could save 67 lives per annum.

Recommendation 9 of the TIC Communique again asserts "increase the market uptake of safer new and used vehicles and emerging vehicle technologies with high safety benefits"and Action K in the TIC communique reinforces this by stating the need to"require contractors on government funded construction projects to improve the safety of vulnerable road users around heavy vehicles through safety technology and education programs".

Protecting vulnerable road users in major cities is important, but it is also important to remember that 65 per cent of road deaths occur in regional and remote areas. Encouraging the take up of safety features in vehicles predominantly used in regional Australia is also vital.

In releasing our road safety plan, Safer Trucks: Incentivising the Uptake of Safety Technologies, HVIA welcomes a constructive, mature discussion on advancing road safety.  This is a logical first step to target the vehicles most in need, does so in a way that does not punish heavy vehicle operators, but rather incentivises the uptake of available safety technologies.

Todd Hacking is chief executive of Heavy Vehicle Industry Australia

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