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Opinion: the intelligent way to trucking safety

Use technology in the Heavy Vehicle National Law for better results


During the monthly NatRoad webinar presented by the National Transport Commission (NTC) in September 2020, there was an emphasis on how a future Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) would be more reliant on technology and vehicle generated data.

It was clear from the presentation that the days of drivers carrying a sheaf of paper permits or authorisations will soon be something of the past.  

NatRoad supports the use of technology, particularly to enhance road safety.  Newer, safer technologies, moving ultimately to autonomous vehicles, will have a revolutionary effect on the transport task. 

But whilst technological change will ultimately have revolutionary effects, the irony is that one of the most significant challenges facing the road freight transport sector right now is a critical shortage of truck drivers.

The average age of heavy vehicle drivers is around 53 years with a mere 15 percent of drivers under the age of 30.

With the road freight task expected to double by 2030 and a simultaneous loss of retiring drivers from the workforce, this problem will only get worse unless urgent action is taken by industry and government.   

One of the mechanisms to support drivers to enter the industry is to ensure that technology assists drivers in their work, rather than treating drivers as robots.

In addition to supporting the role of drivers, technology should not be used as a means to punish them.

The outcome of the HVNL review on the use of technology as a data generator relating to compliance, enforcement and assurance is a critical concern.  

Members tell us they have a lack of trust in providing data to governments. The main concern is that the data would be used for enforcement rather than for other purposes, like safety.

We envisage that under a restructured HVNL, the prosecution role will involve technology and data requiring high levels of assurance.

The data must be accurate before the authorities use this to punish those breaking the rules.  

Most importantly, the use of technology and data in this context must be kept separate from data used for other regulatory purposes. 


Read NatRoad’s views on tackling urban congestions, here

In one of the NatRoad submissions made to date in the HVNL review process, we have emphasised that data should underpin risk-based regulation and inform governments on matters such as road investment decisions while protecting drivers’ and operators’ rights.

The protection of those rights and the need for different protocols to apply where data is used for enforcement are priorities of NatRoad members. 

Technology should be used to facilitate compliance with performance-based standards and to improve safety.

A central aim should be to ensure all heavy vehicle operators proactively manage transport safety risk, but without the constant threat of a “big stick” being applied when minor issues occur.

As Hannah Fry, a leading exponent of the use of technology has said:

Until we get to full autonomy, why not flip the equation on its head and aim for a self-driving system that supports the driver rather than the other way around? 

Warren Clark is CEO of the National Road Transport Association (NatRoad)


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