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Truck deaths: what is the answer?

NSW Roads and Maritime Services director of compliance Roger Weeks and Assistant Commissioner Michael Corboy launch Operation Rolling Thunder. Photo: NSW Police.

Following another horror month in truck-related deaths and injuries, conditions, pay, law enforcement or new trucks have all been mooted as the answer.
Law enforcement
In NSW and with the cooperation of surrounding states, police launched Operation Rolling Thunder.
The operation, involving NSW Roads and Maritime Service (RMS) and the NSW, Victorian, Queensland, ACT and South Australian Police Forces, was claimed to be Australia’s largest heavy vehicle operation ever. Police were cracking down on truck compliance across the country, including vehicle safety, driving hours and fatigue, load compliance and DUI.
On the day there were over 300 NSW police involved directly, over 150 RMS inspectors, and the three other states and the ACT.
Police were covering every entry and exit into NSW and all of the Sydney metropolitan area.  They were targeting all of the major motorways, and police and RMS were set up at all major checking stations throughout the state.
Are new trucks the answer?
Industry body the Truck Industry Council (TIC), which represents no fewer than 17 truck brands in Australia, called on the Federal Government to incentivise Australian truck operators to invest in newer, safer and more sustainable vehicles.
The response has been triggered by shock revelations that truck deaths in NSW rose during 2017 by a staggering 86 per cent. Road deaths involving trucks leaped from 29 to 54 last year.
Phil Taylor, president of the TIC called for the Government to prioritise in the 2018/19 federal budget the modernisation of Australia’s truck fleet.
“Increasing the take-up rate of today’s more advanced trucks means everyone benefits from our roads being populated with safer fleets.
“Having been around trucks and the Australian road transport industry since the late seventies, I can verify that significant improvements have been made in regard to truck and road safety,” Mr Taylor said.
In 2017, the average age of the Australian truck fleet was 14.9 years, and with the national freight task continually expanding, this figure is set to rise. Hence, the TIC has long called on government for genuine support in helping operators upgrade their fleets to a more robust safety standard.
What about pay and conditions?
The transport Workers Union has long been calling for an examination of truck drivers’ pay and conditions, and believes recent events reinforce that call.
Three horrific crashes and a $468,000 wage theft case confirm that the transport industry is in crisis, the TWU has warned.
The union has sought to bring the following to the public’s attention:

  • Five people, including three truck drivers, have been killed in three separate truck crashes in NSW, one in Dubbo in which two people were killed after a truck hit their car while waiting at roadworks, and another that caused the M1 to be closed for over 15 hours.
  • The Fair Work Ombudsman announced that SA based transport operator Atkins Freight has been forced to pay $468,000 in backpay and fines to 10 of its drivers.

“The Federal Government has blood on its hands over these deaths. It was warned repeatedly not to shut down an independent road safety watchdog because deaths on the roads would increase. Its own report on the tribunal showed its Orders were cutting trucks crashes by 28%. Families and communities are being torn apart while all we get from the government is silence,” said TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon.
“Official statistics show a 9.4% increase in deaths from truck crashes nationally. The figured for NSW spiked significantly with an 86% jump in deaths from articulated trucks. New Safe Work Australia data for 2017 showed almost 40% of all workplace deaths involved a transport worker. Despite overall workplace deaths decreasing last year, the number of transport workers killed on the job jumped to 66, up from 57 in 2016.
“The wage theft case shows what drivers face – they are under pressure to speed and drive gruelling hours to meet unrealistic deadlines and all the while they are being ripped off their wages. There is a crisis in transport that is being caused right at the top of the supply chain – by the wealthy retailers and manufacturers financially squeezing operators and drivers. The Federal Government is standing by and letting this and the deaths happen. This crisis reflects a total failure of the federal administration,” said Mr Sheldon.
“The trucking community, including the Australian Trucking Association, must come on board and back a sustainable solution to the crisis in trucking. Band-aid solutions will not stop truck drivers and other road users from being slaughtered.”

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