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Prime Mover Magazine


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Phil Taylor

Getting down to the nuts and bolts

October 2017

In my July column this year I wrote about the first-ever national survey that looked at the health of our nation’s heavy vehicle (HV) fleet. The national survey was conducted by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) and in the end it was not quite national, with Western Australia (WA) deciding not to take part. To recap the scope of the survey – from August to November 2016, the NHVR coordinated the first-ever Australia-wide (except WA) ‘health check’ of the Australian on-road truck, trailer and bus fleet. The numbers look like this: 364 HV inspectors specially trained to undertake the project, 168 inspection sites across the country and three inspection methods deployed. There were 668 periodic inspections of HVs, 5,357 roadside interceptions of HVs and 1,105 ‘invitations’, where specific vehicles/companies were invited to have HVs inspected. In all, a total of 6,115 trucks, 1,015 buses and over 3,267 heavy trailers were inspected and their ‘health’ recorded. Of the vehicles inspected,     1.3 per cent were grounded due to serious safety issues – 82 prime movers and 64 trailers.

This first-ever HV health check generated considerable data, some of which was published by the NHVR. The survey data found a direct link between the age of the HV and its ‘health’, leading the NHVR to conclude that: “vehicle age is the strongest indicator of risk of major non-conformity.” That is, the older the truck the more likely it is to have major safety defects. The NHVR found that when comparing major defect rates of trucks, vehicles under two years of age are three times less likely to have a major safety non-conformity than units from four to seven years of age. Significantly, trucks greater than 13 years of age have a defect rate over eleven times higher than those of under two years of age.

So where do the greatest risks lie in terms of vehicle types? The NHVR found that Australia’s bus fleet was generally in good condition, with non-conformances of about two per cent. Road-going plant equipment and special-purpose vehicles also fared well, showing a three per cent level of non-conformance. At the other end of the scale, dog and pig trailers showed the highest level of safety defects, with 21 per cent displaying non-conformance problems. Fourteen per cent of semi-trailers and 11 per cent of road train trailers had issues. On the truck side, semi-trailer prime movers showed the greatest safety-related risks, with 14 per cent found to have non-conformance issues, followed closely by rigid trucks at 13 per cent. The safest combinations on our roads were B-doubles, with B-double prime movers displaying an eight per cent non-conformance rate, while irregularities with B-double trailer sets was shown to be running at nine per cent.

Looking at a nuts and bolts level, what were the major safety issues found? Alarmingly, the survey showed that brake-related defects were the most common non-conformance, accounting for 11 per cent of problems found on trailers and seven per cent of issues on trucks. Tow couplings on trailers displayed a defect rate of three per cent, while engines, drivelines and exhausts on trucks indicated a three per cent non-conformance rate. Also of statistical significance were steering and suspension problems, which accounted for four per cent of non-conformances on trucks and three per cent on trailers, while defects relating to body and structure on both trucks and trailers ran at two per cent. Other common non-conformances included wheels and tyres, lights and reflectors and seats and seat belts.

For some time now, we have known that Australia’s old truck fleet is polluting at a much greater rate than new trucks, causing undue health issues for our communities. Now we have evidence that older trucks pose a significant safety risk too. The Truck Industry Council (TIC) and our members are long-time advocates for well-maintained heavy vehicles and our members actively support this position by offering an extensive range of original equipment parts and service support for their trucks, irrespective of age. However, the Government cannot ignore the results of this national roadworthiness survey. Australia has an old truck fleet by global standards and the TIC again calls upon those leading our nation to put measures in place – measures that must include financial incentives – to renew the nation’s trucks fleet and provide better safety, health and environmental outcomes that will benefit all road users and all Australians.

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