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Ageing truck fleet a cause of concern according to Austroads

Health and safety implications and possible policy options highlighted

Peak roads agency Austroads is undertaking a study analysing the impacts of an ageing heavy vehicle fleet in Australia and New Zealand.

Options for Managing the Impacts of Aged Heavy Vehicles covers heavy vehicles above 4.5 tonnes gross vehicle mass (GVM) used in freight transport, reviewing the main issues associated with continued use of aged trucks and identifying potential policies and other interventions most suitable for these two countries.

It notes trans-Tasman trucks are older than in many other countries due to low barriers of entry, exacerbated by having no secondary disposal market, and few restrictions on how and where they operate.

Based on the above criteria, the aged truck cohort represents 56 per cent of the national fleet, because there are few regulatory, policy, or market forces to drive fleet renewal, Austroads notes.

The average age of trucks is 15 years in Australia and and 18 years in New Zealand.

Three sub-classes of categorisation are based on the vehicle’s compliance with exhaust emission standards in the Australian Design Rules (ADRs).

According to Austroads, the oldest heavy vehicles impacting the community in several ways, including air pollution, noise, and health but, until now, this issue has been hard to define and manage.

“Defining aged heavy vehicles by their emissions standard provides the clearest definition and will likely result in the greatest positive impact of any targeted actions,” Austroads transport network operations program manager Richard Delplace says.

Key findings on the effects of aged trucks on health and safety include:

  • Pre-1996 trucks cause around $200 million in annual pollution-related health costs in Australia. Replacing these trucks could yield a net health benefit of $744 million–$1.441 billion over seven years
  • The cost of emissions from pre-1996 trucks operating in urban areas is 4.5 times higher than in non-urban areas. Measures to reduce the health cost of aged trucks should focus on urban areas
  • Newer trucks (less than five years old) have the lowest crash frequency (casualty crashes/billion km) of all age groups. Older trucks have more on-road defects. But, contrary to expectations, the oldest group of trucks (>15 years) has roughly the same or lower crash frequency as the middle age group (5-15 years)
  • Any direct impact that aged trucks have on overall large loss claims are likely to be minimal. Factors other than truck age have an overriding influence on the overall crash rate.

Read the combined NTI-NHVR data on maintenance and safety, here

Mark Gjerek, the lead consultant on the research, says the nature and structure of the national fleet and freight sector means that the aged-truck problem is difficult to overcome with equitable and effective measures.

“Across the world, governments have taken action to reduce the impacts of aged trucks in their jurisdictions,” Gjerek adds.

“International best practice suggests that different kinds of measures should be combined to achieve the greatest effect.

“Our study presents examples of actions that could directly influence the aged truck fleet.

“These can be broadly classified into four types of action: road access restrictions, financial penalties, financial incentives, and retrofit/repower programs.”

“Freight and heavy vehicle regulation and planning are currently being reviewed on several fronts.

“This is the perfect time to consider this issue to ensure it is included in future planning for a safer, healthier and cheaper freight network.”

Austroads’ top three measures to emerge from the evaluation were: road access restrictions in the form of low emissions zones (LEZ), vehicle registration fees differentiated by emissions class, and differentiated road user charging.

“These could be combined with other lower-scoring but complementary measures – such as investment incentives and scrappage schemes – to achieve the desired changes in the aged truck fleet,” the report notes.

The full report, and details of a webinar on the matter, are available here.


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