The future of regulation

By: Daniel Elkins

Part one of a two part series examining current heavy vehicle regulation and what’s on the horizon

The future of regulation
Compliance, where to from here?


Recent attention regarding heavy vehicle compliance and enforcement activities begs the question as to who is leading these regulatory approaches? With serious road trauma (serious injury and death) on the rise, where are industry and the community to find the answers?

Heavy vehicle road safety is at present un-cohesive. Where is this leadership and in which regulatory agency? There are many factors at play here, more than just the actions (or inactions) of regulators to adequately regulate and create a safer industry.

An explosion of technology and innovation coupled with increased economic growth and infrastructure development, as well as our major cities experiencing million-person population growth over the next 10 years, will see massive transformation in the industry.

How are regulators positioned to improve safety outcomes within industry and for the broader community with such dramatic change on the horizon?

Compliance and enforcement

The Australian transport task will double by 2030. With the additional impetus of substantial government investment and a seemingly good outlook for economic growth the demand for more heavy vehicles will be significant.

What strategies are in place in regulatory agencies to assist industry in being more productive while reducing road trauma?

No heavy vehicle regulatory agency has a published compliance and enforcement policy or strategy. This is despite the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) espousing to achieve ‘a unified strategy and approach’ in this space.

It was un-unified and uncoordinated when two separate operations, each touting to be the biggest and best in Australian heavy vehicle enforcement history, were conducted within weeks of one another. It is still not clear why, what and how these operations achieved reductions road trauma. No agency has yet to advise industry of any such outcomes, just the non-conformity results.

Operation Shield made mention that it formed part of the ‘NHVR Safety Program’. A quick search of the NHVR’s website turns up few clues about the program. The closest things are the Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiatives. This series of ‘safety’ projects is distributing $3.8 million in annual funding from the defunct Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. There is no clear documentation as to how these projects will contribute to reducing road trauma.

There is no visible document that describes how the NHVR will address safety and compliance in the heavy vehicle industry. This is despite a commitment in April 2015 to produce such plans.*

In 2016 the NHVR produced two documents; Strategic Directions 2016 and Setting the Agenda 2016-2020. Neither document set targets to reducing road trauma, nor the measures (metrics) or performance indicators it would use to ‘ensure the intended outcomes are delivered and they contribute to the continuous improvement in safety and productivity benefits.’**

At present we have no way of understanding how the NHVR has contributed to reducing road trauma or improving productivity in the heavy vehicle industry.

What is the relevance of all this to the heavy vehicle industry? It is at the heart of key values that regulators espouse – transparency and accountability – but more than that it is about good regulatory management and in improving road safety.

By publishing a compliance and enforcement policy and strategy which details how regulators will respond to breaches of the law provides industry with certainty and consistency in the actions taken when breaches are discovered. It also makes it clear what regulators consider to be safety priorities.

Most importantly, it identifies how these actions will reduce road trauma. Because if compliance and enforcement activity is not reducing road trauma, why it is being undertaken?

Vision of a Future Regulator

Heavy vehicle regulators are faced with several issues about how to address productivity and road trauma. What are some of the other issues they need to deal with from the expected growth in the industry?

Roadworthiness and Vehicle Standards: Determining a vehicle’s compliance to the vehicle standards is an important factor in assisting reduce the risk of mechanical failure causing road trauma. Knowing which safety critical items require attention and that those items are compliant is vitally important for road safety.

The National Heavy Vehicle Inspection Manual provides a pass/fail criteria against the vehicle standards. There are several technologies that the manual does not cater for or provide a means of assessing if these items are functioning correctly. This is particularly relevant if they have been tampered with or in some instances disconnected. Antilock and electronic brake systems and electronic stability controls are some examples.

Most of these devices have in cab sensors that are checked to identify if they are in fact working. These systems can be bypassed and there is no current procedure to determine if they are functioning without accessing the vehicles engine management system.

How will they be assessed during a heavy vehicle inspection or at the roadside during an intercept? Are enforcement agencies equipped with the right tools and trained how to inspection modern vehicles?

It is now possible to digitally print parts from your desktop computer. The Third Industrial Revolution encompasses 3D digitally (additive manufacturing) printed mechanical parts using plastic or nylon-based and metallised materials. Although Australia has no laws governing the use of aftermarket mechanical parts there are legislative requirements they be ‘fit-for-purpose’.

Parts supplied by original equipment manufacturers have undergone extensive testing to verify they comply to Australian and international standards. With the advent of digitally printed parts how are regulators and industry going to address their use in heavy vehicles?

It is unlikely 3D digitally printed parts will be labelled or stamped. In some instances’ these stamps verify the parts compliance to particular standards.

Printed parts could range from wheels nuts through to more complex items such as internal engine parts or tow couplings. These all can be safety critical items that should have the highest manufacture and in-service compliance standards.

The NHVR are yet to publish details from the National Heavy Vehicle Roadworthiness Program to advise industry what it deems to be safety critical items and which vehicles should be the focus of future compliance activity.

The National Roadworthiness Baseline Survey was published in June 2017 and there is no direction as to when a national inspection regime will be developed and how it will change the inspection of heavy vehicles. Providing this guidance to industry could assist the development of more effective voluntary maintenance and inspection processes.

It should move compliance and enforcement away from random roadside intercepts to targeted campaigns that focus clearly on risk and deliver precise road safety outcomes.

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