Brake tests: breaking down the confusion

With the safety concerns in road transport increasing, it’s become more important for the industry to consider how their vehicles perform against safety measures. Poor braking performance is one of these important factors. Between many test systems in place across the country, however, operators are struggling to understand why the results are often inconsistent. In many cases, members have turned to NatRoad to help understand the confusion.

To explain the background, on 1 July 2016, several states across Australia put in place the current version of the National Heavy Vehicle Inspection Manual (NHVIM). As part of this process, many of these states were required to update their brake testing equipment to comply with the heavy vehicle regulation as well as brake performance specifications in the current version of the NHVIM.

When the change was implemented, it caused quite a shock to some operators. They found some of their vehicles, especially lightly laden trailers, were unable to comply with the brake force specifications. This became apparent when being assessed on roller brake testers (despite having seemingly well maintained heavy vehicles). Often, the business would return to home base to verify that they had made the necessary maintenance or repairs to the failed brake systems and find themselves with the same issue.

The difficulty was particularly felt in the state of New South Wales, with the phasing in of the new brake standards using roller brake testing (RBT) equipment. This equipment is used at both the Heavy Vehicle Safety Stations (HVSS) as well as in roadside tests. If the results of the inspection reveal that the overall brake performance is between 3kN/tonne and 4.4kN/tonne, an official warning is issued.

In recent developments, Roads and Maritime Services New South Wales (RMS NSW) and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) have made the decision to recalibrate the testing machines for better accuracy and to support dynamic testing. This process will take time, so a new transition period is in place until 1 May 2018. This period will enable the necessary adjustments to be made to RBT equipment to undertake dynamic assessments.

Alongside the recalibration, the NHVR is making updates to the NHVIM to ensure the testing is practical and provides accurate results. Drivers should beware, though, that during this period, RMS will continue to issue formal warnings for RBT tests that fall between the 3.0kN/tonne and 4.4kN results.

Many NatRoad members from Victoria and Queensland have raised their concerns about these issues after being RBT tested in New South Wales. The complaints have been partly because even though the vehicle or combination has failed the New South Wales RBT assessment, it is frequently taken interstate where the defect is cleared. This also is occurring where an alternative testing approach is applied (for example, skid plate testing) resulting in the defect being cleared.
With 38 RBT machines at heavy vehicle inspection sites in New South Wales, and an additional 24 mobile units, it’s little wonder so many operators have faced this issue. RMS has the most testing units in Australia by a country mile. They’re used in New South Wales extensively for annual roadworthiness checks and enforcement inspections.

Other states do not test braking systems using roller brake testing. They use one of the other methods set out in the NHVIM, such as the skid plate tester. Ironically, there is no transition period for skid plate testing. Therefore, changes to the NHVIM that resulted in a 50 per cent higher in-service brake performance requirement has not been transitioned where methods other than roller brake testing are in use.

Have you encountered similar issues with brake testing? We want to hear about your experience. Please let NatRoad know where there are inconsistencies in the roller brake testing you encounter in New South Wales compared with the test results from the equipment primarily used in other states. To get in touch, email with the title ‘Roller Brake Testing Feedback’.

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