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Opinion: elephant in safety room hides in fine print

NTARC report crucial to policy making, which must now address suicide by truck


The release of NTIs 2019 National Truck Accident Research Centre’s (NTARC’s) major truck accident report has again provided a great snapshot into a large proportion of Australia’s major truck accidents.

There was great news on Fatigue outcomes dropping to 9.8 per cent of major accidents.

The midnight to 6am time period still accounts for 42 per cent of fatigue related major accidents, but down from 64 per cent in 2009.

Outbound trips still accounted for 72 per cent of major collisions, potentially reflecting fitness for duty is still a problem.

Usually outbound or prime leg trip leg have a healthy freight premium built in yet 70 per cent-plus accidents happen on higher paying legs. So the more you pay the more accidents you have? Any upcoming Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) need to be aware of this.

Metro accidents have jumped from 12 per cent to 25 per cent of accidents which is worth further investigation.

Rigid truck accidents have jumped from 22 per cent to 32 per cent which might partially explain the urban increase with significant construction happening in Capital cities.

Mechanical failures are dominated by tyre related causes. Non-tyre related mechanical failure accounted for a consistent 1.5 per cent of major accidents. This has been consistent over the last five NTARC reports, and this fact could have saved a lot of resource intensive investigation post the Mona Vale tanker crash.

Owner drivers are still not over-represented in major crashes. 16 per cent of insured owner drivers are having 16 per cent of the major accidents. This group is much safer that the small to medium fleets. This will be another tough nut for the upcoming RSRT to swallow.

Fatal crashes are 83 per cent of the fault of the smaller vehicle. This bandwidth of between 80 -100 per cent of small vehicles being at fault has been consistently found in NTARC analysis over several reports. Paying owner drivers more will not stop smaller vehicles being at fault in fatal collisions with trucks.

Read Dr Sarah Jones’ findings on suicide by truck, here

In January 2019, ATN featured Dr Sarah Jones and Chalmers University research that suggested that cars using trucks as a tool for suicide was 14 per cent – 20 per cent (Jones) and 17.2 per cent (Chalmers). NTARC’s initial research (NTARC 2019, p23) found that 20.8 per cent of fatal crashes involving a truck were certain suicides with up to 37 per cent potentially being suicides.

The impact of this finding is profound. It is the elephant in the road safety room. Each State in Australia has a large division of road safety researchers who over the last 15 years have received many, many millions of dollars in research grants.

This often talked about issue has never been tackled and only really discussed in March and now April this year. Perhaps the academic researchers have been the wrong agency to point to for this massive problem to be examined.

The methodology for this NTARC figure was pretty simple and yet not one funded safety Masters or PhD has looked at the Suicide by Truck problem in Australia.

Certainly academia is not the place to research such an important problem given even at conference many academics had a view that the problem was less than a 5 per cent suicide rate. Based on what?

Also, again from an owner driver perspective, will paying an owner driver more stop suiciders using his/her truck a suicide tool? I don’t think so!

The views in this article are the personal opinions of author only.

If you have been affected by this article, help can be found at Lifeline on 13 11 14, and beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.


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