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Keep on Trucking: Road and Driver Safety

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Truck driving is not an easy job. It can also be dangerous. According to the University of New South Wales (UNSW), 200 people die in road accidents involving trucks every year. Compared to the rest of the world, Australia has the most number and the largest trucks allowed regularly on roads because the country’s economy depends on the trucking industry to carry fresh produce, livestock, and manufactured products.

Trucks often pull loads on various trailer types, such as those of King Kong Trailers. It is also normal to see trucks carrying more than 60 tonnes of load. These trucks need several hundred meters before coming to a full stop. Other motorists may not know about this, and when they pull up in front of such a truck, the situation can easily lead to a crash.

Regulators and Industry Safety

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) is the country’s top authority overseeing trucking. There are also government regulators in every state and territory. In addition, there are voluntary compliance programs such as the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme (NHVAS) and Trucksafe.

NHVAS accreditation is managed by the NHVR. Operators of heavy vehicles can get accreditation for several modules such as basic and advanced fatigue management, maintenance management, and mass management.

TruckSafe is an accreditation program under the Australian Trucking Association (ATA). Its standards cover driver health, fatigue management, and animal welfare. The latter ensures that only livestock fit for the journey is included. All aspects of handling and transportation are designed to minimize their discomfort and distress, there is no crowding, and they have access to water and feed. During the journey, animals are observed for illness or death.

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The ATA also has the SafeT360 education program for road safety. This is specifically for drivers aged 16 to 25 because these are the age groups most often involved in road crashes. The program is in a truck and trailer that travels around the country to educate people. Inside the truck, participants undergo interactive virtual reality training where they experience being in a truck driver’s seat. They will get to learn about the truck driver’s blind spots, the length of time and distance needed for a full stop, and the dangers of distracting a truck driver. This will enable other vehicle drivers to drive safely around trucks on the road.

The Australian federal government has pledged to allocate $110 billion up to 2030 to improve road infrastructure to reduce accidents and deaths. This can include structures that separate opposing lanes and dedicated bicycle lanes.

Truck Drivers’ Safety

Another concern is the well-being of truck drivers on the road. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that this June, the NHVR is promoting the Advanced Fatigue Management (AFM) initiative that will allow operators to let drivers drive for 15.5 hours every 24 hours. To qualify for the AFM, operators must implement a Fatigue Risk Management System. The NHVR also suggests that operators lessen shifts ending from midnight to 6 a.m., maximize the drivers’ opportunities for sleep at night, and provide opportunities to nap. Basic Fatigue Management allows drivers to drive for 14 hours out of every 24 hours. The standard is 12 hours.

The Driving Health Study by Monash University produced two reports. Results show that one in every 33 men in Australia is a truck driver, making it the most dominant job in the country. That makes the other findings even more worrisome.

Among truck drivers, half are obese, compared to a third among other Australian men. Two-thirds experience chronic pain that lasts for over three months. A third have three or more chronic illnesses, including hypertension, back pain, and issues related to mental health. This is four times more than the average across the country.

Those with more than two chronic illnesses were prone to experience severe mental distress, bad health, and lower ability to work. Among younger drivers, a fifth is under severe mental distress. That is twice as many as other Australians in the same generation.

The studies identified the factors that negatively impact truck drivers’ health both physically and mentally. These include being able to get enough sleep, healthy food, and exercise. They need more facilities – hygienic ones – to park in, rest, and exercise. They are stressed by workplace conditions, staying on the road, and people’s attitudes toward truck drivers. This affects their personal relationships. The policies and regulations affecting them against what their employers want them to do are also added stressors. Whatever happens on the road, employers expect them to deliver their goods on time.

ABC News reports that there is a national shortage of truck drivers. In Tasmania, they are in their 50’s on average and retiring in 10 to 15 years. There is a lack of new drivers joining the industry. To attract young and healthy drivers into the truck driving workforce, critical changes are necessary now.

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