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SARTA chief welcomes NatRoad onboard on driver competency and behaviour issue focus

Steve Shearer says the ATA conference has already led to a pioneering industry forum on the “hottest and most concerning topic” in the industry

The South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA) executive officer Steve Shearer has responded to the National Road Transport Association’s (NatRoad) call for a focus on driver competency standards.

Shearer says he’s pleased to see NatRoad coming onboard and joining the rest of us on the driver competency and behaviour issue.

Shearer chaired a pivotal session at the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) Trucking Australia convention in Canberra earlier this month, titled ‘Fixing Truck Driver Licencing’.

The session foreshadowed an industry forum on heavy vehicle driver competency and on-road behaviour, dealing with the issue of heavy vehicle driver licencing competency standards, the structure of the licencing system and progression through the heavy vehicle licence classes.

Importantly, Shearer says the session addressed what he calls the “elephant in the room” in the widespread and growing concern about the unsafe on-road practices of some driver and operators who put the lives of other drivers and road users at risk, stressing it’s not a nationality based issue.

“Austroads gave two good presentations during the session on the proposed changes to the heavy vehicle licencing system and the progressing through the classes,” Shearer told ATN.

“Ron Finemore gave a down-to-earth and impassioned presentation about the problems in the area and the need for everyone, from drivers through to management, to be accountable for on-road behaviour.”

Shearer says the Austroads projects don’t adequately tackle the most problematic issue in how to ensure that all drivers have the skills and competency required to drive a truck, as well as the understanding of appropriate safe driving and road-sharing attitudes, before being issued with a heavy vehicle licence.

Shearer also reinforced Finemore’s point that the managers and boards of transport businesses must be held accountable for ensuring acceptable and safe on-road behaviour of their drivers, including ensuring any sub-contractors are also managing their own drivers.

“I argue that the principle of accountability should extend beyond the transport operator business to the customer base by requiring that they ensure their transport operator has the right standards and measures in place regarding heavy vehicle drivers’ on-road safety behaviour,” Shearer says.

“I acknowledge that the issue is probably the hottest and most concerning topic of discussion between drivers out there on the highways. More and more good drivers are walking away from the industry or restricting the routes they work on and at what times because of the increased risks they face from the growing minority of unsafe drivers.”

The new industry forum will be arranged and lead by industry through the ATA, with Shearer saying that government agencies will be invited, but the agenda and forum will be controlled by the industry.

“We need to drive this and achieve real and effective outcomes and ensure that we are not left with tick-the-box administrative window-dressing policies and licensing systems,” he says.

“If we fail to do this properly, the industry will be in serious trouble.”

Shearer also addressed the “rumour-mill myth” that on-road safety problems is a cultural issue.

“It’s not true and the chatter reflects that drivers are taking more notice of issues they may have with poor driving, but they forget or ignore the times they’ve had problems with an Australian-born driver,” Shearer says.

“This is about the skills, competency and road safety culture of heavy vehicle drivers, who need to ensure the training and licencing assessment regimes deliver the right outcomes and that enforcement agencies back that up by holding the unsafe drivers and businesses genuinely accountable.”

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