It started with a letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on January 11, earlier this year. Toll’s Managing Director Michael Byrne sought to provide the government with a targeted plan to help improve safety on Australian roads. As Michael puts it you can never underestimate the personal effects of road trauma on the community.
“Too many people seem to believe that killing people is an acceptable part of our business because they think the solutions are over-regulation of the industry,” he says.
“This sort of thinking has held back the necessary changes in our industry and must be stamped out.”
The overall frustration felt is complex and wide-reaching across the industry, and it is apparent that immediate change must be made to improve heavy vehicle safety. Central to Toll’s concerns is the perceived lack of initiative taken at government level to solve this ever-escalating issue.
“The first thing governments need to stop doing is waiting,” Michael says.
“Waiting for the outcomes of inquiries. Waiting on Coroners reports. Waiting on the statistical analysis of data. We already know what the problems are and now is the time to act.”
The necessary action required has been summarised by Michael and the Toll team within their recent letter, which largely outlines six key improvements that all drivers need to take on board sooner rather than later.
“We have a national problem that needs a national solution. We need the Federal Government to pull in all of the states and get them to agree to the national truck safety actions that were outlined in the letter to the Prime Minister,” Michael says.
“We must have all governments working together to save lives in our industry.”
In summary, below are the six proposed recommendations that were sent to the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull earlier this month.
Point 1: Implement a national standard
Firstly, we must have one rule book across Australia. Starting with the basics – we are yet to have a consistent definition of what a “heavy vehicle” is. Sometimes it’s a vehicle above 12 tonnes (for work and rest hours), sometimes above 12 tonnes and manufactured after 1997 (for speed limiters – except in NSW), and sometimes a vehicle above 4.5 tonnes (mass, dimension and load restraint). Compliance starts with clarity of the rules. A truck should be any vehicle 4.5 tonnes and above. Period.
Point 2: Introduce a national operator licensing system
Secondly, we must introduce an operator licensing system. Where operators in maritime, rail and aviation must all demonstrate their safety and competence before they can operate, in road transport virtually anyone with a truck, a driver and an ABN can be a road freight operator. This makes Australia unusual: most comparable countries have an operator licensing system for road transport. For example, in the UK, road transport operators must pass a “fit and proper” person test, prove they have the funds to maintain vehicles, and employ transport managers who understand what compliance looks like.
Point 3: Educate other road users on how to drive around trucks
Third, the solution to the road toll cannot and will not come solely from industry. The community, government, enforcement and road safety bodies must do their part too. Through NTI data, we know that in 93% of fatalities involving a truck, the other party was at fault. Yet national and state road safety strategies are silent on how light vehicle drivers can “share the road” safely with trucks. There is an opportunity to ensure that drivers are educated on driving safely around trucks, such as safe stopping distances and over-taking, as part of licensing schemes.
Point 4: Reward safe fleet behaviour
Fourth, by pulling the right policy levers, government can incentivise and reward safe behaviours from heavy vehicle operators. Discounted registration and stamp duty fees could be offered to operators with sound safety records. Government can also mandate investment in newer, safer more sustainable fleet. Technologies such as autonomous emergency braking systems, lane departure warning systems and electronic stability control can save up to 104 lives per year but are taking too long to become standard in the fleet. The average age of a heavy rigid truck in Australia is 15.7 years. The average age of an articulated truck is 11.9 years. An operator licensing system could stipulate a maximum vehicle age or offer subsidies/incentives to safe operators to deploy these life-saving technologies.
Point 5: Make telematics mandatory
Fifth, mandate telematics, which includes GPS and black box technology, for all new heavy vehicles. Enforcement of the rules is tough in Australia because of the vast distances between towns. There are not enough police to catch every driver and operator that puts other road users at risk. Mandatory telematics on every vehicle will identify operators that systematically and deliberately speed, overload vehicles and push fatigue limits. Removing operators that refuse to do the right thing protects the community and allows good operators to remain competitive.
Point 6: Draw on private sector expertise
Finally, we must ensure that operators such as Toll Group are actively engaged in any debate and policy development pertaining to road safety and heavy vehicles. Any discussion on heavy vehicle regulation must draw on private sector expertise to truly understand how we can overcome the obstacles that are holding us back from creating safer roads for our community.
In outlining these points Michael is quick to acknowledge that while meaningful change is required, there is no easy “quick-fix” solution.
“There is no single silver bullet for our road safety crises,” he says.
“If I had to say what’s the highest priority, it would be to simply act. Stop waiting on the results of inquiries and investigations. Do something to stop the ongoing avoidable deaths that are occurring on our roads.”
With Australia recently recording one of its worst holiday road toll periods ever, Michael pleaded that government and industry bodies don’t let their guard down when it comes to road safety. As Michael puts it ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away is hardly a viable solution.
“Complacency and the fear of over-regulation from both government and people in the industry are the biggest things holding us back,” he says.
“Inside the industry, there are now people who caution against the proposed changes because the recent spike in fatalities was in NSW so it is only a NSW problem. This is not a NSW problem, it is a human problem because these deaths are avoidable and we know how they can be stopped.”
“We are talking about people’s lives, not some numbers on a spreadsheet. Everyone deserves to get home safely – including those whose ‘office’ is a truck on the road.”
Is federal government still ignoring the concerns?
Mr Byrne told 2GB’s Ray Hadley earlier this week that a key piece of road safety compliance technology is still being blocked due to a number of small groups “protecting their own interests”.
“Electronic work diaries have been debated for eight years and we still don’t have a decision.
“The government and the industry have been stuffing around with this for the best part of a decade.
“I have to look after my 19,000 people in this country so I need to keep banging on about it.”
The full radio discussion is available here: