All roads lead to telemetry

The Australian Logistics Council’s (ALC) 2018 Forum, held in Sydney in March, brought together 280 of the freight logistics industry’s most senior figures, regulators, policy makers and political figures to examine the full gamut of policy issues confronting the sector.

This year’s event came at a crucial moment, as the Federal Government continues developing the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy, ahead of its expected release in November.

The two days of policy discussions and debates provided all attendees with an opportunity to explore current trends and potential policy reforms, and move beyond merely discussing what the Strategy should contain, and instead focus on the even more important question of what industry needs to do now to ensure its ultimate success.

For those involved in the heavy vehicle sector, there were a number of discussions at the Forum that will provide food for thought over the months ahead.

The panel session dedicated to heavy vehicle safety and productivity was particularly notable in this regard, as participants debated how to strike the right balance between safety regulation and practical business requirements.

There was a general consensus that most within the industry try to do the right thing when it comes to safety, but even the best intentioned can’t get it right 100 per cent of the time. After all, we are still relying on human beings – and human beings sometimes make mistakes.

Our regulatory regimes need to take this into account, whilst still holding to account those who wilfully and continuously flout their safety obligations.

It was also observed that a great deal of responsibility is placed on today’s heavy vehicle drivers compared with those of just 20 years ago. In many respects, they are expected to be drivers, workplace health and safety (WHS) officers, accountants and, increasingly, IT experts.

Yet, the complexity of the role isn’t necessarily well understood by governments and regulators, let alone the wider community. It will be important for the industry to do more in the future to change this perception – particularly in the interests of recruiting the next generation of its workforce.

The continuing complexity of regulation – and its duplication – was another significant focus during the discussion, namely the frustration experienced by operators and drivers who must continue to deal with numerous different sets of state and territory regulations.

This varying regulatory approach between jurisdictions is matched by an equally inconsistent approach to enforcement – with some states having a very dedicated and effective approach to ensuing compliances, whilst others appear to be mounting a token effort, with an insufficient number of inspectors and enforcement officers in place to make a real difference.

There was agreement that greater harmonisation between jurisdictions is desirable – both in terms of the regulations themselves, and in ensuring a consistent and effective approach to enforcement.

Finally, the central role that technology will play in enhancing productivity and safety in the years ahead rounded out the discussion.

With some 42,500 heavy vehicle operators across Australia, monitoring and enforcing compliance with safety obligations is an enormous challenge.

Making more effective use of technology’s data-gathering capacity would permit the adoption of a risk-management approach that can target those who are not doing the right thing, and permit operators who are doing the right thing to get on with the job.

Some participants in the discussion suggested that in the not-too-distant future, enforcement could be based on data analysis, to the extent that it ultimately becomes self-regulating, and industry determines who stays in the industry.

But for that to occur, there will have to be a far greater take-up of telematics, which is still being resisted in some quarters of the industry.

Overcoming that resistance will require industry leaders and government to do more to ‘sell’ the safety and productivity benefits of telematics, particularly to smaller operators who may not see it as ‘core business’.

As an industry leader with a clear commitment to securing the mandatory use of telematics in heavy vehicles to drive both productivity and safety outcomes, this area will be a particular focus for the ALC over the coming months.

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