Governments should provide an incentive for transport companies to upgrade their fleets in order to ensure they are using the most advanced safety technologies available, the National Road Transport Association (NatRoad) says.
The association made the statement in its submission to the NSW Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Road Safety, known as the Staysafe Committee, for its inquiry on heavy vehicle safety and the use of technology to improve road safety.
In its submission, NatRoad referred to Truck Industry Council (TIC) data that puts the average age of the Australian truck fleet at 13.8 years.
"With Australia having one of the oldest truck fleets in the world, we recommend that governments offer subsidies or other incentives to encourage investment in modern, safer vehicles," the association says.
NatRoad also says that vehicle safety features are not high on the list for companies choosing to purchase a new truck, with whole of life costs and fuel consumption benefits ranking much higher.
"Heavy vehicle operators are unlikely to upgrade their fleets or adopt new technology if they cannot see a clear financial benefit," the association says.
"Our members also report that trucks in Australia are more expensive when comparing the same model in other parts of the world due to the taxes and levies applied by the government."
Some levels of technology Australia simply isn’t ready for, NatRoad says.
"While automated heavy vehicles have the potential to deliver improvements in safety, we have doubts about the ability of Australia’s current infrastructure to support high levels of automation," it said.
"For example, Lane Keeping Assist systems have the greatest potential for preventing deaths and serious injury but are unlikely to function on roads without highly visible lane markings," it says.
The association also says there are many unanswered questions about how automated systems would cope with various road freight tasks and who would be held liable in the event of an accident.
"Industry must be consulted before any decision is made to mandate vehicle safety technologies. This decision must be supported with a regulation impact assessment demonstrating that the benefits outweigh the costs for transport operators," it says.
Cut out knee-jerk reactions
NatRoad also called for serious truck accidents to be investigated by a dedicated independent authority – such as the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.
"The findings and recommendations should be reported publicly so that actions by industry and the government to reduce the road toll are not misdirected," the association says.
"A more consistent approach to data collection across the jurisdictions on the underlying risk factors that lead to serious incidents will support the development of evidence-based policies."
"It will also help regulators target education and enforcement resources to areas of most risk."
The association says regulations and enforcement measures often focused on the wrong areas – such as the regulations governing fatigue, which it said were "extremely prescriptive, complex and difficult to comply with."
While acknowledging that fatigue was an issue of concern, NatRoad says the reliance on prescriptive work and rest hours was not as effective as the astute management of drivers in determining fitness for work.
"This means that operators and drivers are primarily focussed on compliance with these rules rather than managing the causes of driver fatigue. It also fuels a perception that the fines are issued for ‘revenue raising’ rather than safety objectives."
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