Making the right rules

Developing technical requirements and regulations for the Australian trucking industry is normally a long and arduous process. In the past, there has been pressure from bureaucrats within the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Original Development and Local Government for Australia to adopt internationally recognised standards like those developed in Europe. The time and effort involved in developing Australia specific standards and technical requirements covering every eventuality takes a lot of careful development.

In some cases, like the Australian Design Rules concerning exhaust emission limits, ADR 80/03, it is sensible to simply pick up regulations developed for larger markets like Europe, North America and Japan and apply them to vehicles here. In other cases, where the types of vehicle or combinations are used only here in Australia, the application of regulations developed for the crowded but well maintained highways of Europe are impractical.

Operating procedures and specifications are developed in the Australian trucking industry to keep within prescriptive rules developed by bureaucrats without the resources to create a structure within which only the safest and most productive vehicle specifications can exist. Instead the rules set safety parameters that go a long way to ensuring safe operation but lack the precise detail needed to get the best result.

To address issues like these the Industry Technical Council (ITC) has worked over the past 10 years to develop a series of Technical Advisory Procedures (TAP). Their aim has been to be a practical guide for operators to improve the operation of vehicles and different systems within vehicles. Although they are simply a voluntary guide for operators, they go into the finer detail of how some systems work best in combination with other components to produce the safest and most productive outcome.

So far, the ITC has produced a number of TAP documents addressing areas where the industry felt there was the most need. These included one to promote good design practices for truck and dog trailer configurations, another to create a code of practice for heavy vehicle electrical wiring, and a third addressed the issues around wheel security and developing procedures to ensure wheels remain attached to their vehicle. The ITC also produced a simple guide to compliant brake actuators and a comprehensive guide to vehicle visibility.

Speaking at the recent Technical and Maintenance Conference in Sydney, the ATA’s technical guru Bob Woodward outlined how far the ITC has come in developing a broader range of these TAP documents. A lot of research and development work has to go into creating such procedures and the gestation periods can be quite long. There are a number of new procedures being released in the next year or so.

“Things like wheel security are a real issue for our industry,” says Mr Woodward. “The idea of TAPs is to be a better reference point for workshops. Our ATA website has a section where people can download the procedures.”

One of the areas where developments are happening quite fast and ADR regulations are seen to be inadequate is in truck and trailer braking. The parameters set by the ADRs are supposed to create a safe braking environment but setting up the braking systems correctly for combinations can be fraught with dangers.

Many operators are turning to EBS systems, using electronics to control and balance braking throughout the vehicle. A TAP for EBS systems is currently in development and can be expected to be released in 2012. The broad range of systems available and acronyms used by various manufacturers to describe their systems can be confusing and the idea of the TAP will be to set some benchmarks and develop a clearer understanding of the implications of using these high-tech systems.

“The TAP for trailer EBS will help operators and workshop personnel to ask all the right questions,” said Wabco’s Tony Cheyne at the recent Technical and Maintenance Conference (TMC). “Things like different voltages are issues. There’s a lot of confusion about EBS and related systems. We want to help companies buy the system they need.

“There are eight sets of initials and you need to know what they all mean. Roll stability is simple and prevents rollover but full stability also stops under and over steer.”

Voltage is quite an important issue for those looking at EBS systems, especially those using two or more trailers. On a 12V system, the voltage will be down to 8 by the time you get to the third trailer. However, EBS systems need at least 9V in order to function correctly. To get the systems to work correctly it is important to ensure the main power earth is working as efficiently as possible. In the past, it has been possible to have a functioning electrical system handle several trailers with a relatively inefficient power earth. EBS means this is no longer sufficient.

In his work with Wabco, Mr Cheyne has found a very low level of understanding of exactly how EBS systems work. When systems are fitted in some fleets, driver acceptance and understanding is often difficult to attain.

“We find we have to explain to drivers carefully exactly what the new EBS system is all about,” said Mr Cheyne. “We had people complaining that on a gravel road when they stood on the brakes the trailers didn’t lock up. They had no idea how the EBS system fitted to their truck worked.”

Another TAP being worked on is to create a method for the fitting of side under run protection systems (SUPS) for trailers. There is a standard, developed in Europe, the ECE R 104, which has been in use in Europe for many years. The large supermarkets, here in Australia, are beginning to put pressure on their subcontractors to have SUPS fitted.

“At Maxitrans we have fitted a number of these systems,” said Maxitrans’ Engineer, Greg Brown. “They don’t have to be that tough and can be fairly light to meet the standard. We started with large steel units and followed with aluminium versions. We are now using PEKI light panel, a laminated honeycomb core polypropylene material.

“The guide included in the new TAP for SUPS will give operators an idea of what to look for. This TAP may become the new rules if the government decides to introduce a SUPS into the regulations.”

According to Mr Woodward, developing a TAP at this point, for something like SUPS ensures the government will not just impose an European rule on the Australian industry. The work has already been done in this country to ensure any rule introduced will work in a practical way on Australian trailers.

Following the discussion at the TMC about the new TAPs coming on stream in the next year or so, 3M demonstrated the ease of fitment and effectiveness of adding visibility strips to a vehicle using the Visibility TAP as a guide. Accident statistics tell us 85% of all vehicle accidents involving trucks happen when a car hits a truck. Improved visibility markings on trucks and trailers should reduce the likelihood of this happening.

The Code of Practice outlined in the truck visibility TAP works as a guide to the most effective way of fitting high visibility retro reflective strips or contour markings. It demonstrates how they can be fitted in such a way to make the exact length and size of the vehicle clear to other road users.

With the release of another two TAPs next year, the steady progress being made by the ITC in improving the amount of information out there available to trucking operators to enable them to run safer and more efficient fleets, will continue. They are working, with limited resources, to try and keep up with the ever changing technologies becoming available to the industry. At the same time new regulations are constantly being developed, often based on regulations from other jurisdictions, like the ECE regulations from Europe. These developments only serve to highlight the need for Australia specific information to be available.

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