Australia, Transport News

NSW government moves to strip overheight truck registrations as NatRoad wants smarter technology

While the NSW government has agreed on a way forward for handling overheight trucks in Sydney with the NHVR, NatRoad has provided its own solution

The NSW government has announced that it will cancel the registrations of more trucks that are flouting overheight load restrictions in Sydney’s road tunnels after striking an agreement with the National Heavy Vehicle (NHVR) Regulator.

Following a meeting between Minister for Roads John Graham and NHVR chairman Duncan Gay and Acting Chief Executive Ray Hassall, the scope has been widened for NSW to take action more often to remove heavy vehicles from the road for up to six months when they have been responsible for overheight breaches.

The NHVR has agreed to refer all overheight breaches at tunnels as “aggravated” events because even the smallest breach is repeatedly threatening safety on Sydney roads and causing chaos and congestion to city traffic, particularly at the busy entrance to the Sydney Harbour Tunnel.

Under the existing national regulation of heavy vehicles, Transport for NSW can deregister trucks and take them off the road once the NHVR has referred an incident as “aggravated circumstances”.

In future all tunnel overheight incidents will be deemed aggravated no matter what the level of the breach and Transport for NSW will be able to take action against owners and operators more often.

At the same time, the NSW government is strengthening advance warning systems and raising awareness through driver education in collaboration with the NHVR.

The NSW government has approved the deployment of $5 million in infrastructure upgrades, which will include moving sensors further back along the Warringah Freeway to ensure heavy vehicle drivers can take earlier evasive action to avoid blocking traffic at the tunnel portal.

“I want to thank the NHVR for working collaboratively with us to send a clear warning to those minority of owners and truck drivers who are still not getting the message about overheight restrictions in tunnels,” Graham says.

“The agreement shows the NSW government has zero tolerance for these city-choking breaches and we hope that the threat of losing a heavy vehicle to a registration ban is a message that is not missed in the quarters of the industry that are still ignoring the rules around trip planning and load height.

“We are under no illusion at the potential economic impact for companies and individuals to lose a heavy vehicle for six months, but we are determined to address this intolerable situation on our roads.”  

Duncan Gay says the NHVR  has zero tolerance for overheight trucks entering tunnels, saying he completely understands the frustration and impact these incidents are causing the Sydney community.

RELATED ARTICLE: Tension continues to build with Sydney overheight truck issue

“The NHVR is committed to working closely with the NSW government and the decision for the NHVR to trigger automatic referrals following overheight incidents will allow Transport for NSW to make informed decisions on registration or licenses,” Gay says.

“This issue needs to be tackled using preventative as well as enforcement measures. The NHVR is committed to working with our partners to raise better awareness for operators and drivers.

“Operators and drivers are again urged to measure the height of their truck and plan their journey ahead of time to ensure they comply with tunnel height clearances.”

In response to this overheight truck issue in NSW, the National Road Transport Association (NatRoad) says the solution to over-height trucks blocking the Sydney Harbour Tunnel is already in plain sight.

NatRoad says Artificial Intelligence needs to be applied to a handful of the state’s 168 existing traffic monitoring cameras near the Sydney Harbour Tunnel and other key height-restricted infrastructure.

Over-height trucks have clogged the vital north-south artery once every three days this year, with three incidents on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

NatRoad CEO Warren Clark says the incidents are caused by a tiny minority of drivers who are apparently unaware of their vehicle height.

“While it’s not an excuse, it may be because they’re contractors who have been brought in at short notice in response to an industry-wide labour shortage,” Clark says.

“A kneejerk call by Business Sydney to ban trucks from the tunnel won’t work. Many trucks are too heavy to use the Harbour Bridge and forcing them onto suburban routes lengthens their trip, adds to emissions, chokes local roads and ultimately costs consumers more money.

“The big stick solution is clearly not working and the obvious problem is the positioning of the cameras. By the time a truck comes into view, it’s too late. They can’t make a U-turn so they have to back out, which takes time and has a knock-on effect for following traffic.” 

Clark says there are similar problems in the USA, where there are 617,000 bridges and 520 tunnels. Damage by over-height trucks is the country’s second largest cause of bridge failure.

“Researchers in New York City are using a very low-cost Artificial intelligence vehicle warning system to combat 200 incidents annually,” Clark says.

“AI could easily identify an over-height truck in the vicinity of the Harbour Tunnel and trigger a strategically placed warning sign long before it enters an approach road.”

Last year, Transport for NSW trialled AI cameras in the Hunter Valley and at Stanwell Tops as a road safety measure. It has cameras using similar technology called machine learning at 13 locations but only two are in metropolitan Sydney and they only monitor truck loads.

“Our industry supports more driver education and traffic snarls are as annoying to truck drivers as they are to motorists,” Clark says.

“The real answer here is using existing technology to better effect and deploying it in locations where it’s going to be more effective.”

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