The long and winding road to 2.55m truck width

Kenworth on a Melbourne bridge.

In May 2019, I detailed in this column a renewed push by the Truck Industry Council (TIC) and its members, to increase the maximum vehicle width in Australia by 50mm, from 2.5m to 2.55m.

I explained that when it came to maximum vehicle width, Australia was in a very exclusive, but not envied, position, being just one of six countries on the planet where maximum vehicle width is restricted to 2.5m.

The others in the ‘2.5m club’ are Argentina, Japan, Lebanon, Morocco and South Korea. Even our Kiwi cousins across the ditch, ditched 2.5m in favour of 2.55m in 2017 and have never looked back.

This was not the first time that maximum vehicle width had been put on the table for discussion in Australia. Way back in the early 1990s the issue of aligning with the European maximum vehicle width of 2.55m was first raised by industry.

However, it was not until 2007 that the Federal Government decided that 2.55m vehicle width would be implemented in Australia, only to encounter pushback from some State jurisdictions, who had the legal authority to block vehicle widths greater than 2.5m on their roads.

Amid the original assurances, some truck manufactures produced trucks at the promised 2.55m width. Ultimately these trucks had to be modified, at considerable expense, back to 2.5m when the states won the day. So why is 50mm such an issue?

The answer is directly related to Australia’s position in the world hierarchy of annual truck sales and despite record new truck sales in Australia last year, we represent about 1.0 per cent of global truck production each year.

However, with almost 80 per cent of new heavy-duty trucks sold in Australia each year imported directly or being derived from truck designs from markets where the maximum vehicle width is 2.55m or greater, most of the heavy trucks sold in our market must be redesigned to suit our unique width regulations.

That 50mm, the height of a credit card, is actually a very big deal and needlessly costs truck manufacturers and their customers, millions of dollars each year.

While adding unnecessary cost to heavy vehicles is never a good thing, there was a much more important downside to limiting Australian vehicle width to just 2.5m. Increasingly, there are many emerging advanced safety technologies that are currently available, or that are being developed in overseas markets, that rely on sensors placed on the outermost extremities of the vehicle.

Many of these systems are designed to provide safety benefits to vulnerable road-users. In numerous cases, it is economically not justifiable to redesign these features for a low volume Australian market, with a unique 2.5m width limit.

The upshot is that those new trucks with their latest safety and environmental features are left in their overseas home markets, or the features are removed for Australia because the cost of re-engineering and re-testing simply cannot be justified.

At the very least, there are significant delays in bringing trucks with these features and systems to our shores. TIC highlighted these issues at both state and Federal Government levels and to their credit, the Department of Infrastructure and Transport, developed the concept for the Safer Freight Vehicle package.

A view whereby a truck with a suite of the latest international safety systems, over and above those currently required by Australian vehicle regulations, would be allowed to operate on the Australian road network at up to 2.55m in width. Australian truck manufacturers and importers are, if nothing else, a very patient group.

After four decades of actively campaigning the merits of aligning with international vehicle safety and width regulations, Federal Assistant Minister Carol Brown announced in late September 2023, that she and Federal Transport Minister Catherine King, had gained the necessary State and Territory support and moved to sign the new and amended Australian Design Rules (ADRs) that will allow the introduction of the Safer Freight Vehicle package.

These regulations will allow vehicles fitted with an advanced safety package to operate at up to 2.55m on Australian roads.

There are a few in-service boxes yet to be ticked, the main one being that the Heavy Vehicle National Law needs to be amended to allow such vehicles to operate on Australian roads, however that process is well underway, and it is envisaged that 2.55m trucks will be a reality in Australia by mid-2024. I do say trucks, because at this point in time the Safer Freight Vehicle package does not apply to busses or trailers.

Those discussions are ongoing and must now be the priority.

Tony McMullan
CEO, Truck Industry Council

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