En route to a safer industry

If heavy vehicles were inspected vigorously every day and a speed limit of 10km/h was applied to all heavy vehicles, there would be no deaths or injuries from truck crashes. But industry would grind to a halt.

On the other hand, if heavy vehicles had no inspection regime, could access any road with no speed or drive-time limits, goods would be delivered faster and cheaper, until the costs of crashes started piling up.

There is a balance here. The industry and federal, state and territory governments have been trying to strike that balance. Most recently the Transport and Infrastructure Council met in Launceston on 7 November. That meeting made progress on mapping access roads for heavy vehicles across Australia. It also made progress on the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator’s aims to have uniform national safety requirements. The Ministers also agreed on new arrangements for the appointment of independent auditors and more effective business rules for the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme to ensure more effective roadworthiness requirements for heavy vehicles.

Progress seems incremental but given the competing interests, that is not surprising. Naturally enough, there has been plenty of disagreement.
Some heavy vehicle operators, particularly smaller ones have bemoaned what they say are onerous and costly bureaucratic requirements preventing them getting the freight through. Some state governments have been quite jealous in guarding their jurisdiction over the heavy vehicles that pass through their territory.

The Australian Logistics Council ALC represents the major Australian logistics supply chain customers, providers, infrastructure owners and suppliers, including many of the main road transport companies.

ALC works with government at all levels to ensure it considers the needs of the logistics industry in its investment and policy decisions. ALC advocates improving supply chain efficiency and safety; boosting investment in infrastructure; ensuring regulation is effective and not unreasonably onerous and promoting improved technology.

It does this because more efficient supply chains will generate economic growth; improve the flow of goods from production to consumption; reduce transport costs, resulting in cheaper goods; and improve residential amenity by reducing urban congestion.

ALC has advocated against a heavy-handed, rigid enforcement approach that sees, for example, defect notices for torn mud flaps and other petty-minded enforcement procedures. But ALC is uncompromising in its advocacy for a safer industry that demands roadworthy vehicles driven by competent, alert drivers. This is in the interests of industry, business and consumers.
Attention to safety is in the economic interests of operators. It is also in the human interest of drivers whose families are in a constant state of worry. And it is the right thing to do.

While ALC supports compulsory vehicle safety requirements, it would also like to see the review of the Heavy Vehicle Roadworthiness Program put in the context of the National Logistics Safety Code. The voluntary code helps participants meet their Chain of Responsibility obligations under the Heavy Vehicle National Law. The code sets out all participants’ responsibilities when they control or influence the movement of freight.

The importance of Chain of Responsibility is that it makes people aware of their duties to people along the whole chain, rather than just what they think is their part of the chain. Thinking about and taking responsibility for the safety of those further down the chain can only help those who work in the heavy vehicle section of it.

The newest, most technically roadworthy vehicle possible is no guarantee of a safe workplace for drivers if others in the supply chain impose such unreasonably tight delivery times that the only way to achieve them is by driving too fast or too long.

The difficulty with relying solely on a prescriptive legislative approach is that firms unwilling to voluntarily develop safety-management systems may respond by obeying the letter of the law, rather than its spirit. Often it is more important to change safety culture rather than attempt to enforce safety through detailed rules.

Another important role for the National Logistics Safety Code is that adherence to it can help firms facing the prospect of criminal and civil action. Adopting the code can help firms show that they took all reasonably practicable steps to ensure a safe workplace for all classes of people. This is a test which courts have increasingly applied in civil and criminal actions.

Yes, we can have prescriptive rules for vehicle road-worthiness, but we must go beyond that to achieve the safest and most efficient heavy vehicle industry.

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