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Shearer notes complexities behind heavy rigid fatals trend

SARTA executive director says authorities shouldn’t panic over a recorded rise in fatal heavy rigid truck crashes


New statistics showing a rise in fatal crashes involving rigid trucks should be seen in a broader industry context, SA Road Transport Association executive director Steve Shearer says.

As reported here yesterday, the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics quarterly bulletin on fatal heavy vehicle crashes showed fatal crashes involving heavy rigid trucks increased 5.3 per cent (compared to the same period a year earlier) over the three months to the end of June in 2013.

The number of fatal crashes involving articulated trucks decreased by a similar percentage over the same period.

While Shearer acknowledges rigid trucks are more prone to crashes than articulated combinations, he says there are several issues that should be considered in line with the raw numbers.

First, the total number of truck movements was also rising during the statistical window in question, meaning per-journey rates of crashes most likely fell.

Second, enforcement of local truck movements has only been ramped up in the last two years – effectively since the BITRE data period.

“Probably the biggest issue is that the local fleet [trucks on journeys of less than 200km] has been overlooked with the enforcement effort,” he says.

Rigid trucks take up the bulk of that local work.

Shearer says that most enforcement authorities believe the bulk of operators are working well, with just five per cent operating outside of compliance.

“But that five per cent can do a lot of harm,” he adds.

Issues with maintenance, driver training, and fatigue management among those transport operations do need to be addressed.

“The authorities in most states are now putting a real focus on the local fleet – identifying those doing the wrong thing and nailing them to the wall,” Shearer says.

“That’s definitely appropriate.”

In particular, he believes authorities need to take a close look at fatigue issues among drivers of rigid heavy vehicles.

While these are not necessarily driving long distances, drivers are putting in long hours across repeat journeys.

“The distances aren’t long, but the hours are,” he says.

Expected increases in registration fees for rigid vehicles, when compared to the fees required of articulated trucks [which are falling or staying the same] will also force poorer performing operators to not take short cuts.

Shearer also points out that several studies over the last 20 years have shown that motorists are at fault in 76-84 per cent of all fatal accidents between cars and trucks.

Given this, statistics showing a rise in rigid vehicle crashes do not show the whole story.

“It raises the question: of the fatalities involving rigids, how many were truck only and how many also involved a car and were more than likely caused by the motorists,” he asks.

Still, Shearer agrees there are issues to deal with rigid trucks specifically.

“This is not about diminishing the responsibility of the trucking industry,” he says.

“Everyone is looking for safer roads.

“If we’re going to solve the problem, we have to make sure we truly understand the problem.”

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