Opinion: Vilified despite averting possible Adelaide Hills disaster

By: The Interstater


Only in the trucking industry would an individual who has possibly saved lives wind up copping the full force of the law

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It has been said, time and time again – not enough people know what we do for a living. But that doesn’t stop the pseudo experts coming out of the woodwork. And they never let the truth get in the way of making the industry safer.

So let’s open up a can of worms that no-one seems intent on discussing, openly, honestly, decisively and without fear or favour. Many would have you believe that they are best placed to make inroads into correcting the problem, but their modus operandi isn’t to better our lives at all.

One of the most talked about situations escalated recently when a young fella took the safest way out by launching his B-double into the second arrester bed to avoid a catastrophic crash while descending the Adelaide Hills that could have clearly resulted in the deaths of many other road users. Going by footage taken by someone sitting in a car in the far right lane, the B-double (clearly going too fast) wisely exited the roadway and drove into the catch bay. So what did he get rewarded with? A medal of honour? A hero’s welcome? A tickertape parade? No, they were on him like flies with a traffic ticket and a stream of questions to be answered.

So what did he deserve? A kick in the groin and his licence revoked indefinitely? Or should they have held out until it was established what was the Chain of Responsibility downfall and by whom?

The questions should have been as long as they were obvious. Why put him in such peril? Who vetted his ability? Who bothered to ask what experience he had? Who cared about the 24 hours leading up to this mess? Why didn’t they use due diligence in ascertaining whether or not our little hero was best suited to transcend one of the most dangerous pieces of bitumen in South Australia and, arguably, in the whole of Australia for that matter? 

FATAL FLAWS

Firstly, although truck drivers helped build the new pathway down the ‘Old Eagle’ on the hill, we didn’t design it with the fatal flaws it has been bequeathed. The old road, due to the fact that it had that many curves and bends in it, didn’t lend easy to a truck getting up as much speed by the time it either crashed or fell over, in comparison to the road we have been lumbered with for the past 20 years.

Back then we didn’t have a length, or the weight, pushing us down the hills like we do now. Sure, we have better braking ability nowadays, but only when it is all working as well as it was when the last mechanic was under it making sure it all worked to its optimum. But that was … how long ago?


THE INTERSTATER COPS HIS SHARE OF ABUSE → CLICK HERE


What are we supposed to do when the last time we actually needed to rely on our brakes to pull us up was back at Keith, or maybe Tailem Bend? Slowing down via the Jake brake and washing off the 100km/h on flat ground, whereby we were only doing 60km/h when we decided it was as good a time as any to come to a complete stop, have a bit of a walk around and maybe grab a coffee. No indication that the brakes are perhaps not working to their absolute best for the descent into the Adelaide metropolitan area.

But what if we were feeling the urge to clamber underneath and adjust the brakes somewhere before we reach the top of the eagle? Where would the powers to be suggest we do that? Perhaps the Mt Barker parking bay? The one that was built on a downhill slope? So how do we stop the truck and the trailer rolling away or running over our legs while we crawl in under the trailer on pretty abrasive bitumen with a 9/16ths ring spanner to adjust something that most fellas who haven’t been in the industry long enough to have been taught which way they need to turn the adjuster?

We are now dealing with the unknown and relying on the old, "She’ll be right mate" maintenance program, and the ignorant "well, if he doesn’t know what he’s doing, then he shouldn’t be behind the wheel" excuse.

WHAT GEAR IS THAT?

So now we ask a simple question (well it must be): What gear is "low gear must be selected"? I’d like to know ’cause I don’t know. I thought it would be 14th like it was last week when I came down there empty. Or maybe 9th, like it was in the K200 at around 58 tonne gross (relying
on the paperwork though), or should it have been 7th, ’cause I nearly ran up the arse of the bloke going down there at 25km/h because he didn’t have a working Jake brake?

I think we would all like to know why some fool, or a panel of fools, put the 60km/h camera east of the very top of the hill. Now every poor bastard driving along, doing the right thing, has to slam on the brakes to make sure he is under 60ks when he goes past the camera, only to have to pour the revs back on to ease it up and over the pinch so as to maintain the momentum required to grace the top of the hill. I don’t suppose the Minister that gets up on TV, spouting the changes he is going to implement in the name of safety, would fully understand the difference in descending down that hill in different makes and different models of trucks now would he?

Diff ratios decide different inputs being needed. Coming down in an American-based truck over a European truck necessitates a different degree of knowledge and skill. A Jake brake working on all six cylinders over one that is barely working on two cylinders can be the difference between death or survival.

On the morning of this close call it would appear that both right hand side lanes were stationary, and it was only by the grace of the trucking gods that the left hand lane wasn’t filled with stationary cars as well.

LIFE-SAVING MANOEUVRE

To walk five miles in this young fella’s shoes would see yourself hurtling down a hill that you may never have seen before, let alone heard about, probably in the angel gear the truck had chosen, because inexperience meant getting it back into a higher gear first wasn’t thought of at the time. Yet to keep his cool long enough (and remember, every 10 seconds would have felt like a minute) to hold it until he could see the only option available to him (because he didn’t design the hill), he saved who knows how many lives.

I’d like to shake his hand and I’d like to think he was offered much more training, or even put through a proper training program, because if he was able to survive such a potential catastrophe, then I would like to see him stay in this industry.

There is one thing for sure – there will be more of this happening, but this fellow won’t be one of them. A mistake isn’t a mistake until you make it a second time and my bet is – if he hasn’t been fined and scared out of this industry for life – eventually he will master this lunatic asylum that we call trucking.

The Interstater is a regular columnist for Owner//Driver magazine.

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