SARTA and TWU take aim over SE Freeway rules

By: Rob McKay

State industry body and union as one on fears drivers will hesitate to use brakes

SARTA and TWU take aim over SE Freeway rules
Steve Shearer


Increasing frustration at the lack of clarification on how South Australia’s police (Sapol) will interpret new South Eastern Freeway truck descent rules has seen the state industry body and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) in agreement.

The South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA) and the union both expressing concern that the new rules’ insistence that truck drivers must use "a gear that is low enough to limit the speed of the vehicle without the use of a primary brake" is a recipe for confusion on the part of police and a danger to safe driving.  

It is pointed out that many trucks have braking lights connected to jake brakes as well as primary brakes and that primary brakes will be needed anyway if a faster truck approaches a slower truck when both are travelling under the speed limit for the descent.

Responses on SARTA’s facebook page show little industry confidence that enforcement officers will be discerning or understanding of the issues, with SARTA concerned that truck drivers may find themselves in two minds on using the primary brakes.

For its part, the South Australian government notes that the new rules passed muster with the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) and that primary brakes can be used as long as the truck driver is in control.

"We want to make sure that people are safe on our roads, I can’t emphasise or stress that enough, SA police and road safety minister Corey Wingard says.

"So, any measure we can put in place as a suite of measures that keep our roads safer are a good thing."

The state police force plays a very straight bat in response.

"Sapol can confirm that they have received some correspondence from Mr Shearer as highlighted by your inquiry," a spokesperson says.

"Sapol have previously publicly commented that there will be no change to the way we currently police all road traffic matters.

"Each incident is assessed upon individual circumstances with common sense and discretion applied.

"This means if a driver of a truck is travelling safely and responsibly down the freeway; and an obstruction or other circumstances should prevail where the brakes are applied, then this will be taken into consideration.

"Sapol has representation on the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) industry working group. This has a broad range of heavy vehicle operators, peak bodies and Government agencies including the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure represented.

"The SA Road Transport Association (SARTA), of which Mr Shearer is the executive officer, is also represented on this group which is the appropriate forum where these types of discussions should be tabled so that there is a consistent approach to the understanding of this legislation. This is not just a Sapol matter.  

"In November 2018, the industry working group was provided with a detailed presentation by the South Australia Police Heavy Vehicle Enforcement Section on the new freeway laws; how they would be enforced; and highlighted the importance of making the right choices about speed and gearing prior to commencing the descent on the South Eastern Freeway."

Despite this, the TWU and Australian Trucking Association (ATA) owner-driver representative Frank Black have appeared on a local Channel 9 news report airing their concerns and SARTA executive officer Steve Shearer has already been prominent on mainstream media complaining about the situation, given the penalties are so stringent.

Read about the swingeing new SE Freeway penalties, here

"The Police are completely ignoring the very real and substantial increased risk of serious and fatal truck incidents on the SE Freeway, which will arise from Sapol’s ongoing refusal to clarify in writing that truck drivers will not lose their licence for six months if they make safe and responsible use of their brakes under the new rules from 1 May," Shearer says today.

"We fully support the new offences and the penalties from 1 May in respect of those who make excessive use of the brakes and do not descend the SE Freeway hill safely.

"Sapol is playing Russian roulette with public safety on the SE Freeway by placing priority on keeping life easy for themselves rather than on listening to the genuine and understandable widespread concerns of truck drivers that if they so much as touch their footbrake they could lose their licence and livelihood for six months. It beggars belief that Sapol can’t or won’t understand this.

"The refusal of Sapol to provide the clear written clarification that we have been seeking for weeks will lead to far too many truck drivers not using their footbrake when they should as part of a safe controlled descent on the SE Freeway.

"There will be 66 serious/fatal incidents every year on the SE Freeway if just one truck driver in every 10,000, of the 660,000 that come down annually, gets into difficulty by not using their footbrake when they should, due to fear of losing their licence for six months just for touching their brakes.

"We consider that level of risk is utterly unacceptable but apparently Sapol does not. There can be no other explanation for the fact that SA Police and the Minister for Police continue to ignore completely our written requests for urgent discussions or for Sapol to issue a simple clear written clarification dispelling the drivers’ concerns.

"Sapol is in complete denial of the operational realities that require truck drivers to make limited safe use of their footbrakes during the descent and lives will therefore be put at risk.

"Truck drivers can lose their licence for six months if the Police allege they failed to ‘… drive the truck in a gear that is low enough to enable the vehicle to be driven safely on that length of road without the use of a primary brake’. This is a black and white ban on any use of the brakes.

"Sapol’s verbal statements that the police will enforce the law as they have always done, or worse, that they will apply ‘common sense’, just don’t cut it because they are prosecuting a driver right now just for briefly using his brakes even though he was doing less than 40kph and his brakes weren’t hot.

"Drivers know they can not rely upon common sense being applied by police.

"We are now less than one week from the serious increased safety risk from 1 May and Sapol needs to come to its claimed ‘common sense’ and prioritise public safety over ease of prosecution."

When ATN asked about the alleged prosecution discrepancy and how officers were to determine if jake or primary brakes are being used, the Sapol spokesperson said there would be no further comment on the matter.

Comment has been sought from Wingard’s office and, though it had no input into the legislation.

"The road rules in SA are a state matter for police and the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure," an NHVR spokesperson says.

"The NHVR supports all state jurisdictions and police making improvements to road safety."


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