A second generation truck driver, Steve Broadbent stepped away from being a butcher and obtained his truck licence when he was 19 and has since driven around 6 million kilometres at the wheel of trucks.
During his career Steve has transported everything from livestock through to Ferrari Formula 1 cars and in his early days drove on bush tracks in the Gippsland forests hauling hardwood logs with a jinker.
“It was pretty hairy especially after snow, and the roads were simply pushed through on the dirt by a bulldozer,” says Steve. Jodie, Steve’s wife, has a career as a fleet safety and compliance specialist, which, in turn, has meant numerous family relocations. Steve has driven many different trucks and combinations including triple roadtrains, milk tankers, side tippers and mine trucks in Gippsland, float work in Canberra, a variety of freight at Simon National Carriers, and postal freight for KS Easter in Sydney. Since moving back to Melbourne a few years ago, Steve has driven for Freestones Transport carrying Fedex freight.
“I guess one thing about driving trucks, it’ll take you everywhere and you can get a job anywhere in Australia,” says Steve, who takes all of his own food with him and avoids takeaway when on the road.
“I’ll only have one meal at a roadhouse each week and I’ll generally use the Healthy Heads app to get a discount on a steak and salad meal at a BP roadhouse,” he says. “I don’t know how blokes eat fried foods all the time.”
Steve feels that the introduction of speed limiters years ago was a major step in improving not just safety but also the public image of trucks.
“It does make it harder when a truck you’re driving is not heavy, and you come across a couple of trucks struggling to pass each other, and they hold each other out there,” he says. “Many drivers no longer have road etiquette. Even ten years ago, if you saw a truck coming up behind you, you wouldn’t pull out and try to overtake another truck if you knew the one behind you was quicker, because it just slows everyone down and causes frustration.”
As with many long-term operators, Steve has a level of mechanical empathy for the truck he drives and is concerned that ‘new’ drivers are often too remote from the equipment they operate.
“Drivers need to be able to know what’s going on with their truck,” he says. “I think I have a pretty good understanding of the truck I drive, and I drop the bonnet and check it over before every trip. Yet I see some drivers just hit the key, build the air and off they go. They don’t even look at the tyres and it makes me wonder what they write on their pre-start checks. I still treat any truck I drive like it’s my own, which is nice, because the bills aren’t mine!”
Steve feels the maze of regulations presents a barrier to attracting and retaining good people.
“The border issues during COVID lockdowns were an absolute joke and that cannot happen again,” he says. “Drivers are the lifeblood of this country, and to say a piece of paper made everyone safe to enter a state is bloody ridiculous. Everyone knows who we are, where we are and where we go, because we’re tracked via GPS for every metre of our journeys. There is lots of regulation which is just too much to comprehend, and it should be a lot easier to understand.”
However, Steve believes that many drivers are their own worst enemies.
“A lot of drivers seem to make it much harder than it needs to be,” he says. “There’s a lot of misinformation in the industry and drivers repeat things that just aren’t true. I really wish there was somewhere for drivers to get factual, no-nonsense information to help them, not a union or a Regulator, just a friendly person who understands what they need to know and can explain it in simple terms. That would be helpful.”
Steve has some enlightened views on overcoming the perennial driver shortage and regards the proposal for drivers’ apprenticeships as a good idea, but believes the students will need to have more exposure to the actual driving aspect.
“That’s key. It can’t be learned in a classroom, or even in a depot. They have to get out on the road with another driver,” he says. “I know this will mean paying two people to do one job but that’s the cost of training someone properly. You can’t skimp on that, it’s too important, and I think we’re seeing the impact of that now with drivers who haven’t had an older, wiser person beside them while they were learning. It would be good if we could go back to the old way of bringing someone through into the industry, where they could initially be a passenger and gradually be exposed to the industry, like many of us long-time drivers were.”
Steve’s prestigious ATA award is recognition of his outstanding performance as a professional truck driver and he modestly offers some advice for others.
“I don’t see the point in giving someone money in fines, so it’s cheaper to not stuff up,” he says. “I’m not saying I’m perfect, but my job now is pretty steady, basically dock to dock, with plenty of time to get the job done, so it’s not difficult to do the right thing.”
When he was younger, Steve notes things like good load restraint, tight tarps, knowing the weight of the freight and making sure the truck was safe, were something to be proud of.
“Back then it was rare to get booked for something like that,” he recalls. “It takes the same amount of energy to do the right thing as it does to do the wrong thing.”
With that said, Steve believes it is important for any interaction a driver has with enforcement officers to be respectful.
“They’re just doing a job, and if you’re a smartarse toward them you’re probably going to get that same attitude right back,” he says. “I always try and be polite because you don’t know what sort of day they’ve had. If you’re stopped and you’ve been doing the right thing, then it’s a different conversation with the officer than if you’re trying to hide something. It doesn’t hurt anyone to be nice, and a more pleasant interaction probably means less time stopped on the side of the road.”
Steve has some simple rules to stay safe.
“If you’re tired, stop and rest. Wear your seat belt because nobody is jumping clear of a truck crash, you’re kidding yourself if you believe that,” he states. “Don’t speed through roadworks, even if you think nobody is working there. If the boss says ‘Go’ and you’re tired, say ‘No’, there’s always another company that will employ you, and it could save your life. There’s no load worth dying for.”
Steve used to drive delicate glass bottles from Penrith to Brisbane via the notorious Putty Road and was renowned for never losing a bottle. He has never been involved in an at-fault accident, in any vehicle, car or truck and after 40 years shows little sign of disenchantment despite the challenges.
“It’s definitely not the same industry I started in, but I still love it and I doubt I’ll ever get out of it,” he says. “I’ve done an auditor’s course, and I’ve done driver training/assessing and ran a business where I helped companies get accredited to NHVAS. So I can definitely see myself going back and doing that again when I get away from driving.”