Ken Wilkie, Opinion

Making a difference – Wilkie’s Watch

Class 1 heavy vehicles

Chris Roe has furnished me with a copy of the document, Road Transport Industry Position Statement: Closing Loopholes Road Transport Reform, dated September 23, 2023. I have major issues with parts of the document.

Page three: ‘Operators and drivers are pushed to the limit with no safety net of industry standards to fall back on. In 2022 this led to 185 truck related fatalities, including 44 truck drivers’. I consider this a spurious claim at best.

Where are the studies that determine the causes of accidents? Driving is both a skill and an art. How many of these fatalities could have been averted had the truck driver been remunerated to a greater degree? Really, would renumeration have made a difference? I suspect not.

All driving is speeding and unlike the advice my friend John the carpenter offered in relation to cutting timber, driving does not offer the choice of measuring twice and cutting once.

Get it right the first time or the penalty can be very injurious and sometimes even to the extent of being fatal.

The Australian attitude these days seems so much the reverse of Reg Chard’s (see below). Self first, second and, if there are thirds, I’ll have that too. Don’t get me wrong – I do not condone rip offs but that appears to be so much the Australian way currently.

My brother the dairy farmer has struggled for years with bargain basement returns for his product. There is currently concern voiced in Queensland regarding prices being charged by supermarkets compared to what is being paid to supermarket suppliers. Despite the questionable tactics of supermarket management in this regard, customers still flock to them for bargains.

Getting back to Chris’s document. So much of it is couched in terms reminiscent of claims made in that recent referendum. Trust me, it’ll be right, although I do credit the authors for naming clauses in the proposed act for reference. It would be informative to have those included.

In relation to renumeration of drivers, I consider there to be an element of jealousy driving the demand for higher returns. I note recent reports of several Queensland bureaucrats being remunerated to the tune around one million dollars per annum. And most pundits would expect further perks at the end of contract. I suspect some truckies would like similar renumeration.

Lengthy innings

Should I be able to continue for a further six months as an owner-driver, I will have clocked up 50 years. Please accept my apology for appearing to skite, but in that time I have circumnavigated the earth twice, once by air and once by boat.

In addition, we’ve had several international trips. I’ve slept on the Antarctic continent, been on the polar bear reserve Wrangle Island and sailed off Herald Island – both in the Arctic Ocean.

In addition, I’ve made numerous flights in relation to being on the board of the National Transport Federation, NatRoad and, in later times, the National Road Freighters Association. On top of that we have sponsored two years of a secondary school to attend the Mount Cotton Driver training centre – sadly for but two days in total.

In addition, approximately half of my 50 years in road transport has been as a subcontractor.

To continue, when this issue of OwnerDriver goes to print, we’ll have crossed Canada from west to east and return to west by train.

One simply cannot teach people to drive in one day. This was done with two ambitions. Firstly, in the hope some knowledge might save someone trauma or death.

Secondly in the hope someone with better financial and more influence than me might be convinced that one way to improve this industry’s creditability would be by advocating the road safety benefits of comprehensive driver training at secondary school level.

Sadly, I consider it a reflection on the arrogance of industry leadership and a pointer to the driving ignorance of that leadership – that no lesson was taken from our initiative. The same ignorance gives rise to the flawed advice to simply slow down and the simplistic suggestion that ‘every K over is a killer’.

Don’t forget that we also provided the initial prime mover for the Truck Right Industry Vehicle effort at totally our expense; registration and insurance included. Rather than being seen as complementary to the Australian Trucking Association’s show piece, it’s been viewed more as competition. That prime mover was just one of six new vehicles we have purchased over the period.

Accident survivor

While this industry is no walk in the park, I consider viability is acceptable on safety grounds should people take due care – both professional and casual drivers. I’ve been through two major accidents.

One a double fatality in which I consider myself to be a victim of another driver’s distraction. The second, I was responsible for – again this time, through my distraction.

In both cases, action could have been taken through split second decision making to minimise the outcome. Had the driver that I’d involved in the accident been educated in the skills of driving, we could have gotten away with panel damage. As it was, his vehicle was written off.

But for a strong inter directional traffic flow barrier, I’m confident severe injury would have resulted – if no fatality. An honest informed response to road trauma is long overdue.

Your reading this month: The Digger of Kokoda, The Official Biography of Reg Chard by Daniel Lane. After the horrors of New Guinea, Reg spent considerable time driving trucks interstate.

KEN WILKIE has been an owner-driver since 1974, after first getting behind the wheel at 11. He’s on his eighth truck, and is a long-time Owner//Driver contributor. He covers Rockhampton to Adelaide and any point in between. His current ambition is to see the world, and to see more respect for the nation’s truckies. Contact Ken at ken@rwstransport.com.au

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