Roads to recovery

The beginning of a new year provides the opportunity to both reflect on the successes and challenges of the past year and to set intentions for the year to come.

I’m sure most people are happy to see the back of 2020 and the unanticipated tests.

While we prioritised keeping the industry moving through COVID-19, industry, regulators and governments were still able to work together to progress key initiatives to ensure an efficient, productive, safe and sustainable road freight sector in our post-COVID economic landscape.

In this new year, our key priority for 2021 is to build on the good work of the industry, while our broader economy is on the road to recovery.

Key to achieving these goals around safety and productivity is the ongoing review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law, which is still in progress.

To achieve a good outcome from this process, everyone in the supply chain, including user companies must actively encourage the delivery of a better law from the current review.

This rethink of the law is especially critical as innovation and new technology change the landscape of the industry.

Take for example, the significant leaps forward in fatigue and distraction detection technology, which has the potential to be a safety gamechanger.

For the first time we have technology that allows drivers and companies to manage the fatigue risk in real time, beyond just prescriptively counting hours.

Now operators, safety managers and schedulers will be able to ‘see’ what is happening and work to stop incidents from happening — not just guess or retrospectively attribute to fatigue.

The research that is being done into these technologies has also showed that distraction events occur four times more than fatigue events do.

This kind of information enables informed discussions between operators and drivers to help ensure a driver is working when they are most fit to drive.

We are committed to ensuring there is regulatory recognition of this technology and we are hoping to start running a pilot early in the new year to test some concepts around flexibility.

Of course, we have also recently approved the first two Electronic Work Diary providers. This is a critical step in moving away from the complex, prescriptive system of work diaries and counting hours.

All these technologies will work hand-in-hand to deliver flexibility, while keeping all road users safe.

Another core focus for the NHVR in 2021 is enhancing productivity through things like improving and modernising the access regime and through removing the barriers to newer, higher-productivity vehicles.

I want the NHVR to be a productivity ambassador for the industry rather than spending our time facilitating a permit process. Our goal is to tell industry where they can’t go, instead of where they can, thus substantially reducing the need for permits.

To achieve this, we need to take people with us, particularly local and state governments.

That’s why we’re investing in projects that provide peace of mind around safety and infrastructure impact for road managers.

Things like, for one example, our Strategic Local Government Asset Assessment Program, which is assessing and identifying the condition of infrastructure on local roads in efforts to unlock strategic parts of the freight network.

We’re also progressing a national spatial map, which will allow infrastructure condition to be displayed in a transparent way to better plan journeys. We have already learnt a lot from work we are doing in this space.

For example, a recent assessment of more than 100 bridges showed that when conditions are applied, like reduced speed and single lane travel, then 90 per cent of assessments that would usually be rejected are returned as approved.

We need to embrace this information to ensure it is adopted and used more effectively.

We are also focused on ensuring there is a collective focus on changing the high-risk perception around newer, safer, higher productivity vehicles and providing them with guaranteed access.

We will be pursuing improvements to the PBS scheme that will streamline the approval processes, move mature designs to the prescriptive fleet and provide greater flexibility and fleet utilization.

Following the release of our Vehicle Safety and Environmental Technology Uptake Plan in mid-2020, we will also help to enable the take up of new safety technology, through breaking down some of the prescriptive barriers, particularly around vehicle dimensions.

We have some very real opportunities to make significant improvements to safety and productivity if we embrace them the right way.

Moving our current thinking from the current prescriptive law to innovative, forward-thinking solutions.

I hope you’ve had a safe and happy festive season. I’m looking forward to working with everyone across the industry over the next year.

Sal Petroccitto,

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