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Lachlan Benson

Heavy Vehicle Safety must feature in election agenda

February 2019

With 2019 now firmly underway, the attention of many industry bodies is squarely on influencing the policy agenda in the lead-up to the Federal Election that is expected to occur in May this year.

For political parties preparing their policy platforms, a key question is whether they are truly doing everything possible to save lives on our roads – particularly when it comes to heavy vehicle safety.

We know that road safety is a key focus for both sides of politics – because they have told us so.

The report of the Inquiry into the National Road Safety Strategy – released in September and was welcomed by both major parties – recommends that the Federal Government pursue rapid deployment and accelerated uptake of proven vehicle safety technologies and innovation.

Indeed, the report specifically notes that any delay in mandating proven safety technologies in Australian vehicles “is costing lives now and will continue to do so.”

The same report also contained a recommendation to establish a Federal road safety entity to report to a Cabinet-level Minister with responsibility for national road safety, which will help drive more consistent national outcomes in this area.

The ALP National Conference, held in Adelaide last December, noted this recommendation when it committed a future Labor Government to “establish a National Office of Road Safety.

This dedicated unit within the Department of Infrastructure will be tasked with improving data collection, promoting best practice research, and leading the development of the next ten-year National Road Safety Strategy…”

The Labor Party also committed to “mandate proven vehicle safety technologies in new vehicles”.

This is a welcome sign – but ALC believes a commitment to further action is needed from both major parties.

Now is the ideal time to build on these measures by mandating the use of telematics in all heavy vehicles, to combat speed and fatigue issues, and allow industry participants and governments to plan safety initiatives and infrastructure - including heavy vehicle rest areas – more effectively.

With the National Transport Commission slated to commence a review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) in 2019, this is the ideal time for both sides of politics to lend their support to this critical, life-saving reform.

Indeed, last year the then-Chief Executive of the National Transport Commission, Paul Retter, specifically noted telematics as a priority area for that review to consider.

In ALC’s view, the question of mandatory telematics ties to the issue of accreditation for heavy vehicle drivers.

ALC takes the unequivocal position that heavy vehicle operators should be required to comply with an agreed set of National Operating Standards in order to operate a heavy vehicle in Australia.

A National Operating Standard would include requiring a heavy vehicle operator to have the financial capacity to operate a business and maintain their vehicles to an acceptable standard, as well as to adopt a uniform safety management system.

This is consistent with the approach taken in other comparable jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and New Zealand.

If those nations are able to protect heavy vehicle drivers and other road users by implementing a consistent set of standards for industry participants, there is no reason why Australia cannot do likewise.

Australia insists upon adherence to a set of minimum standards for those engaged in a range of other transport careers.

Driving a heavy vehicle is a challenging occupation that demands specialist technical skills, a constant awareness of a changing road environment and potential hazards, and the ability to keep accurate records to comply with reporting requirements.

It is not unreasonable to expect those engaged in the profession to be able to demonstrate compliance with a set of minimum standards that ensure our nation’s heavy vehicle fleet is being driven and managed by dedicated professionals.

Objections to measures such as mandatory telematics and accreditation generally focus on issues of affordability, particularly for smaller operators.

These are issues, which can easily be addressed by the industry and government working cooperatively to resolve them.

They are certainly not a reason to continue delaying policy reform in this area – especially when we know there are lives at stake.

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