PBS heavy vehicles safer than the rest

By: Warren Clark*

The Productivity Commission’s 2020 review of national transport regulatory reform states that the driver of the other vehicle was at fault 83 per cent of the time

PBS heavy vehicles safer than the rest
Will the Road Safety Action Plan extend to well-designed heavy vehicle rest areas?


There’s a lot to like about the recent release of the New South Wales government’s 2026 Road Safety Action Plan. Who can argue that halving deaths and reducing serious injuries by 30 per cent on NSW roads by the start of the next decade isn’t a worthy goal? And putting technology at the centre of improving road safety makes sense on any measure.

Once you dig into the detail, however, some valid questions do arise.

The first is the assumption that because heavy vehicles have a greater mass than cars, the consequences of crashes in which they are involved are more damaging.

This is a flawed argument. Performance-based standards vehicles, with their higher masses, have a better safety record than their smaller and older counterparts.

It’s something that the Productivity Commission’s 2020 review of national transport regulatory reform highlighted:

"There have been significant improvements in heavy vehicle safety over the past decade, with the number of heavy vehicle crashes involving injury or death per kilometre travelled decreasing by about 40 per cent between 2008 and 2018.

"The fall in crash rates is consistent with longer-term trends and is likely to be due to factors affecting all vehicle types such as improvements in road infrastructure and safer vehicle design."

We have had discussions with representatives of the NSW Centre for Road Safety about the vehicle mass issue and they steadfastly stick to their view that road trains must be limited to 90km per hour in NSW.

The Centre’s view is that crashes involving heavy vehicles are "often serious" because of their size and weight, regardless of who is at fault.

RELATED ARTICLE: NatRoad says funding for rest areas woefully insufficient

It is worth noting that the Productivity Commission found that most multi-vehicle fatal crashes involving a heavy vehicle are not the fault of the truck driver.

The Commission says that the driver of the other vehicle was at fault 83 per cent of the time. For serious, non-fatal, multi- vehicle crashes involving a heavy vehicle, the heavy vehicle driver was at fault 65 per cent of the time.

One of the things the Road Safety Action Plan recommends is development of a safety rating program for heavy vehicles. It says this would provide operators with information on safety performance and the level of occupant and public road user protection.

We welcome that … provided NSW goes back to basics and separates heavy vehicle infringement data from cars.

We also like the commitment to delivering a new heavy vehicle safety strategy through partnership with industry.

The "partnership" word is critical but it’s one that NSW Minister for Regional Transport and Roads, Sam Farraway, recently told me is fundamental to the way he wants to work in his new portfolio.

NatRoad had a good working relationship with his predecessor, Paul Toole, and we look forward to constructive dealings with the new Minister.

The NSW Strategy make the obvious point that road quality is fundamental to road safety. The Strategy commits the state to systematically building a safer road network through safety infrastructure and speed management.

We hope that extends to more well-designed heavy vehicle rest areas at strategic locations.

The Strategy mandates that early and ongoing safety assessment be intrinsic to all NSW transport infrastructure projects.

It’s encouraging that the NSW government says it will lead from the front in adopting minimum heavy vehicle safety requirements and technologies by making them part of its procurement and fleet policies.

Trialling low-cost retrofitted technology options to increase vulnerable road user detection and warnings on heavy vehicles gets another tick.

And so does an aspiration to achieving optimal safety outcomes from the Heavy Vehicle National Law review, especially concerning fatigue. That should have happened yesterday.

NatRoad communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Our advisers are available to clarify any questions you have and provide the right advice for your business and workforce. Contact Richard at richard.calver@natroad.com.au, or on (02) 6295 3000.


*WARREN CLARK, NatRoad’s chief executive officer, has more than 20 years’ experience leading and developing business for emerging companies. Warren has held the position of CEO at various companies and is a certified chartered accountant.

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