Opinion

Stopping bridge strikes

Bridge strikes

Boosting awareness, enhanced enforcement action and a renewed focus by industry have been critical in slashing the number of dangerous and disruptive overheight incidents across the Sydney metropolitan area in the past 12 months.

Safety is always the top priority at the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR), and it was why – following a series of avoidable incidents involving overheight vehicles – the NHVR and Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW) were committed to pulling every possible lever and working closely with industry to ensure both the safety of motorists and the protection of vital infrastructure.

These have included TfNSW increasing the fine for overheight trucks that ignore low clearance signage to $5,500, with drivers also able to be issued with 12 demerit points.

TfNSW may also suspend a driver’s licence for up to six months and may issue a registration suspension for trucks for up to six months.

We’re pleased to see the number of incidents has dramatically improved since the measures were introduced, with incidents involving overheight trucks across New South Wales having fallen to the lowest level since 2017.

According to TfNSW, the first four months of 2024 have seen 19 fewer incidents than in the same period last year – a reduction of almost half, from 39 to 20 incidents.

In the same period TfNSW issued eight overheight trucks with registration suspensions, and seven with licence suspensions.

It follows a $5 million investment in infrastructure and improvements from TfNSW across Sydney last year to prevent such incidents occurring following a spate of avoidable disruptions, including improvements to the Sydney Harbor Tunnel, revamped signage and advertising billboards.

At the NHVR, we enhanced our measures to educate through dedicated advertising on social media, radio and online, and developed a brochure translated into three different languages to further inform drivers on what steps they can take to ensure incidents are avoided.

Industry members have played a crucial role in the success over the past 12 months, and we thank them for their ongoing commitment to training their drivers and ensuring routes are appropriately managed and planned.

With every incident causing traffic congestion, potential damage to costly infrastructure and putting the safety of both the heavy vehicle driver and other motorists at risk, becoming complacent on this important issue is simply not an option.

That is why at the NHVR we remain vigilant in educating and improving our strategies to communicate to drivers about how to avoid such incidents.

Drivers may not be aware, but New South Wales has more tunnels and bridges with low clearances of less than 4.6 metres than any other state in Australia.

Roads leading to tunnels and bridges which may be of concern are equipped with an array of sensors, median strips and signage to warn drivers of what is ahead.

These important infrastructure elements are critical in avoiding a potentially catastrophic incident – and it is important to be aware of what such warnings are telling you.

Following these warnings could not only save a hefty fine and the potential loss of your licence, but also stop thousands of commuters being stuck in traffic and prevent a significant blow to costly transport infrastructure.

Not being caught overheight prevents disruptive traffic blockages, and just one incident can cause peak hour pain for thousands of commuters – and grind Sydney to a halt.

For operators, it can mean huge fines and costly expenses such as for emergency response vehicles.

And while implements like warning signs are an important part of alerting drivers that their heavy vehicle is overheight – these are a last resort.

At the NHVR, we understand that driving a heavy vehicle comes with increased challenges.

Fortunately, there are a number of preventative steps which can be taken to ensure vehicles don’t end up somewhere they shouldn’t be.

Operators should ensure heavy vehicle loads are being measured each time they are due to hit the road – even if it is believed the height is already known.

Remember, heavy vehicles higher than
4.3 metres have restricted travel conditions and must use only approved road networks.

It is essential for operators to ensure routes are appropriately planned before departure to make sure heavy vehicles are only travelling on roads and through tunnels and under bridges where permitted.

There is not a single driver out there who wants to end up on the nightly news as the one who caused traffic chaos for thousands of commuters, damaged expensive infrastructure or – worst of all – injured themselves or others.

Safety on our roads is everyone’s responsibility, and we know that the vast majority of drivers and operators do the right thing.

Keeping vigilant about the height of your heavy vehicle and where you can and can’t travel must remain a top priority for every driver hitting the road.

Paul Salvati is the NHVR’s Chief Operations Officer.

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