Truck safety is every road user's problem

Geoff Crouch
Geoff Crouch

In the year ended September 2017, the number of deaths in NSW from crashes involving articulated trucks such as semitrailers increased from 29 to 54. That's an increase of 86 per cent.

It's a shocking statistic. It shows that governments and our industry still have more to do on road safety, because even one death on our roads is unacceptable.

Professor Ann Williamson from UNSW has blamed the increase on driver fatigue and the way truck drivers are paid. Others have blamed the increase on the Australian government's abolition of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal.

These suggestions are not supported by the evidence.

Although truck drivers work long hours, their work and rest times are tightly regulated. NSW has the same driver fatigue laws as Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania.

During the same year that deaths in NSW increased, the number of deaths in articulated truck crashes fell in Victoria (-4.5 per cent), Queensland (-14.8 per cent), South Australia (-23.1 per cent) and Tasmania (-80 per cent).

We also know that most of the increase in deaths in NSW was in multi-vehicle crashes. About 80 per cent of multi-vehicle crashes involving trucks are not the fault of the truck driver. These crashes cannot be prevented by changing the way truck drivers work or are paid.

To reduce these crashes, governments need to press ahead with measures that improve safety for everyone, such as building better roads and better speed enforcement.

There also needs to be a concerted effort to inform road users about how to share the road safely with trucks.

Too many car drivers do not understand the dangers of cutting in front of a truck or trying to overtake a turning truck.

The trucking industry is doing our part. The Australian Trucking Association operates a state-of-the-art road safety exhibition, the Safety Truck, filled with displays about how we can all share the road safely. 

The industry has also supported new truck safety laws that will come into force in mid-2018. Under these laws, trucking businesses and powerful customers will have a strong new safety duty, backed by stiff penalties.

Above all, the terrible spike in deaths in NSW and the uncertainty about why it happened shows that Australia needs a better system for investigating road crashes.

These crashes will be the subject of coronial inquiries, but those inquiries won't occur for years. When the coroners do make recommendations, they are likely to be noted and then implemented late, if at all.

In contrast, the Sydney Seaplanes crash is being investigated by the specialist safety investigators at the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. They will release a preliminary report before the end of this month and a final report by the end of 2018. .

The ATA believes that the ATSB's role should be extended to include serious crashes involving trucks and, in future, automated vehicles.

As the first step, the Australian government should invest $4.3 million over the next four years to establish a national database of coronial recommendations about road safety and a national database of serious truck accidents.

The ATSB is one of the world's leading safety investigation organisations. It is respected globally. Australia has no excuse not to apply its expertise to road safety.

Geoff Crouch is the chair of the Australian Trucking Association.