Peak organisation of Australasian road transport and traffic agencies, Austroads, has completed a study considering the optimum heavy freight vehicle dimensions in Australia. The evidence supports increasing the maximum allowable heavy freight vehicle width from 2,500mm to 2,550mm (including attachments).
New Zealand has allowed heavy freight vehicles to operate at 2,550mm without restriction since 2017 and there has been no reported or anecdotal evidence that the wider vehicles are more likely to be involved in a crash.
Most of Australia’s trading partners regulate a maximum heavy freight vehicle width of at least 2,550mm and many allow 2,600mm for refrigerated vehicles. This means that most imported heavy freight vehicles must be modified to comply with Australian standards before use in Australia.
There is a substantial fleet of heavy freight vehicles already entitled to operate in Australia with a width of 2,550mm through exemptions or permits from the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator or through the Australian Design Rules (ADRs) and Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL).
This, according to Austroads, results in productivity impacts (increased costs of procuring new vehicles and increased cost for operations of modified vehicles) and additional regulation and administration costs in getting approvals from road agencies and National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR). The need to modify imported heavy freight vehicles before use on Australian roads also results in safety impacts, due to slower penetration of newer vehicles with modern safety technologies and limitations on installing safety technologies which extend beyond the 2,500mm width.
Austroads has consulted with industry stakeholders (including transport operators, trailer and vehicle manufacturer/ importer and peak groups) and with road managers (including local, state and toll road managers). The consultation employed a range of methods, including online surveys, one on one interviews and a workshop.
The results of the consultation indicate that there is majority support for a change in the national policy to allow all freight vehicles to operate to a maximum width of 2,550mm (including attachments). Some respondents indicated that their support is conditional on mandated safety technologies being included as part of the change and others raised concerns about the potential impact on domestic manufacturers and challenges for road managers when assessing the risks of wider vehicles.
These risks could reportedly be mitigated by mandating driver training and specific safety technologies (such as blind spot information systems and side under-run protection) and by supporting domestic manufacturing (transitional arrangements and subsidies to adapt processes).
Some respondents, Austroads said, suggested that the proposed change was not enough, and the change should allow vehicles access at 2,600mm. The option to expand the policy change to allow some vehicles access at 2,600mm is recommended for future consideration after the 2,550mm relaxation has been proven on the network.
While Austroads recognises that moving to a maximum heavy freight vehicle width of 2,600mm would generate benefits for some in the freight industry, and especially the operators of refrigerated vehicles, the impact of the wider vehicles on road safety would need additional consideration.