In light of the publication of road safety statistics for 2017, Australia’s transport and logistics industry leaders have stepped up to offer their counsel on making roads safer for all.
In late 2016, the National Transport Commission (NTC) predicted a 26 per cent increase in Australia’s freight task over the following decade, as a result of the country’s economic recovery from the 2007/2008 global financial crisis. The statistic has been widely used by industry bodies, including the Australian Logistics Council (ALC), to highlight the need for better transport policies and more efficient processes within the logistics industry.
Since the Federal Government reported in February that the number of serious road accidents involving articulated trucks in New South Wales spiked in late 2017, the commercial road transport community has spoken out to highlight the safety focus that permeates the actions the industry undertakes – and also put forward ideas for making Australia’s roads safer.
Updating the rulebook
ALC Managing Director, Michael Kilgariff, emphasises that, while accidents involving heavy vehicles increased in the 12 months to September 2017 in New South Wales, they decreased in the corresponding period in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania, suggesting that industry efforts to promote safety have been supported in those regions by the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HNVL). “This doesn’t mean industry should be complacent,” he says. “There is far more to do – but it is important the discussion is placed in its proper context.” He endorsed a rollout of national operator for standards, and the inclusion of a mandatory requirement in the HVNL for on-board telematics, to make compliance with safety regulation less onerous for drivers. “Telematics has been part of the conversation for many years, but the pace of adoption has been far too slow,” he says. “It is time for industry and governments to rectify this and make 2018 the year that mandatory telematics stops being a talking point at meetings and becomes the law of the land.”
Geoff Crouch, Chair of the Australian Trucking Association (ATA), notes that the suggestion that the increased roll toll was caused by driver fatigue and the way truck drivers are paid – proffered by University of New South Wales Researcher Professor Ann Williamson – is “not supported by the evidence.”
“About 80 per cent of multi-vehicle crashes involving trucks are not the fault of the truck driver,” he says, citing the National Truck Insurance (NTI) 2011 Major Accident Investigation Report. “These crashes can not be prevented by changing the way truck drivers work or are paid.” He proposes that governments focus on improving roads and speed enforcement, and providing education for passenger car–driving populations on sharing roads safely with trucks. He also notes that new industry-backed truck safety laws due to come into effect in mid-2018 will further support better safety outcomes. “Under these laws, trucking businesses and powerful customers will have a strong new safety duty, back by stiff penalties,” he says.
Six steps to safety
In early 2018, Michael Byrne, Managing Director of Australian transport and logistics company, Toll Group, penned an open letter to Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and all road and road safety ministers across Australia, addressing the country’s “dire road safety problem.”
He wanted to give his insight, as “the leader of Australia’s largest transport and logistics company,” former leader of “the second largest transport company,” Linfox, and a second-generation industry veteran who has worked in the industry since he was 13 years old.
In the letter, Michael gave an industry perspective on improving road safety, along with six critical areas for attention.
“Our approach to heavy vehicles in this country is core to tackling this issue,” he said. “It’s time for a genuinely national approach to heavy vehicle regulation.”
First, Michael requested a national rulebook containing a common definition for ‘heavy vehicle’, and consistent approaches across states for driver fatigue, speed limits, heavy-vehicle regulation and licensing.
“The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) was supposed to deliver one rulebook,” he said. “It hasn’t. Western Australia and the Northern Territory have refused to sign up to the national law. And so today, Australian road freight operators are subject to multiple and overlapping rules at the local council, state and national level.”
Second, Michael called for the introduction of an operator licensing system, to ensure safety and competence and bring the industry in line with others, such as maritime, rail and aviation. “In road transport, virtually anyone with a truck, a driver and an ABN (Australian Business Number) can be a road freight operator,” he said. “Most comparable countries have an operator licensing system for road transport.”
Third, he wrote, road safety won’t be achieved by industry alone; the community, government, enforcement and road safety bodies must also do their parts. “We know that in 93 per cent of fatalities involving a truck, the other party was at fault,” he said, citing the NTI’s National Truck Accident Research Centre’s 2017 crash report. “Yet national and safe road safety strategies are silent on how light vehicle drivers can ‘share the road’ safely with trucks.”
Fourth, Michael called for government incentive to encourage safe behaviour. “Governments can incentivise and reward safe behaviours from heavy vehicle operators,” he wrote. “Discounted registration and stamp-duty fees could be offered to operators with sound safety records.”
Fifth, Michael advised the Government to mandate telematics for all new heavy vehicles. “Mandatory telematics on every vehicle will identify operators that systematically and deliberately speed, overload vehicles and push fatigue limits,” he said.
Michael’s final proposal was for the Government to ensure operators, such as Toll Group, are actively engaged in debate and policy development regarding road safety. “Any discussion on heavy vehicle regulation must draw on private sector expertise to truly understand how we can overcome the obstacles that are holding us back from creating safer roads for our community,” he added.
An industry imperative
The need for improved safety dominated headlines for the first weeks of Mark Mazurek’s tenure as CEO of Australian supply chain company Linfox Logistics. He tells Prime Mover sister publication, Logistics & Materials Handling, that safety forms a major part of the company’s culture, and he looks forward to working with the Federal Government to bring about better conditions across the industry. “You can’t put an unsafe driver in a safe truck and expect it to be safe,” says Mark. “Industry, government and road users each have a role to play in creating a culture of safety on our roads.”
Like Toll Group’s Michael, Mark hopes to see the Government focusing on creating consistency for the industry. “On a policy level, it is critical to align national heavy-vehicle legislation across Australia, to make operations simpler, more efficient and safer,” he says. “This includes maintenance standards, driver medical standards and heavy vehicle licensing. We’d also like to see greater restrictions on older vehicles and trailing equipment.
“In terms of infrastructure, we’d like to see significant improvement to the road network – particularly in regional areas.”
Mark adds that the Government will need to be responsive to advances in technological capabilities. “Linfox would like to see policy advanced in mandatory telematics to assist with management of speed, fatigue, mass and maintenance – and, crucially, for the Government to create an environment for innovation and technology to be trailed and implemented quickly.”
The convergence of several major changes will impact the industry as a whole. For a start, the NHVR’s new Chain of Responsibility regulations are set to solidify safety obligations across the supply chain from mid-2018. The ALC and the ATA will also continue work on their jointly developed Master Code, a set of guidelines to support HVNL safety and compliance, and the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy is set to be revealed later in 2018. There are busy times ahead, and if the Federal Government, industry representatives and supply chain operators continue the conversation, collaboration and commitment around the safety issue, all stand to benefit.
Road transport delivers the bulk of Australia’s non–bulk commodity freight. According to the National Transport Commission’s 2016 Who Moves What Where report, rail transport accounts for half of all freight movement in Australia, of which 80 per cent is transport of iron ore and coal. One-third is transported by road, including perishable consumables, consumer goods and construction material and also some bulk commodities such as cattle, grain and processed metals.