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Truckin’ abroad: From driver image to over-weight caravans

Australia’s road transport industry mirrors that of other westernised countries, in both positive and negative ways. Northern hemisphere-bound Rod Hannifey writes.

I am very proud to have been awarded a Churchill Fellowship, specifically the NRMA/ACT Road Safety Trust sponsored fellowship which was offered for any nominated project to do with road safety.

You could apply for a sponsored fellowship as I did and if unsuccessful, you were still able to enter the pool for a direct Churchill Fellowship.

I have had people in the past suggest I should apply, but never had the time and the TruckRight Industry Vehicle (TIV) was always first, once it was on the road. Now I have achieved well over my initial commitment of four years, I was looking for the next challenge or project.

This is of course not to say all our problems are fixed, far from it, but how can we make more progress?

I follow the United States transport industry for a number of reasons: they may be the closest to us in the freight game, they have a higher and more positive public profile, but again are not everybody’s favourite on the road. They have Jason’s Law, aimed at providing more truck rest areas, still a work in progress though. Not that this makes them better, but they have followed some of our fatigue changes.

It is one thing to speak to someone on the phone, or even to watch, but it is another to actually see how things do or don’t work. I aim to visit the US, Canada and the UK to speak to those not only in the associations and the industry press, but also to spend time on the road.

To be awarded a Churchill Fellowship you have to apply with a project, itinerary, personal reference and project reference. I believe they can receive up to 1,200 applications each year. You then do a number of interviews; if you miss one you’re out of the running. These interviews go towards a state final and then all state finalists go into the national finals. This year 106 people were awarded.

Without this fellowship, I could simply not afford to do such a trip. It is well beyond my means. The Churchill Fellowship Trust was started after World War 2 to allow Australians to visit and learn from overseas countries, things they cannot do here but that will be of benefit to other Australians.

Improving our image

Now I have to start work on the actual itinerary, arrange all those I wish to visit. So far the Australian Trucking Association, Australasian College of Road Safety, the American Trucking Association and the Road Haulage Association in the UK and a number of others here have offered help and advice, either for contacts and/or suggestions.

In the US there is a program called ‘Trucking Moves America Forward’ (TMAF) run by the American Trucking Association which I have been watching for some time. They have over 100 trailers wrapped with their message, have done videos and are aiming to improve how trucking is seen and appreciated by the public. I would like to see something similar done here, but of course it would be on a smaller scale.

Truck rest areas, hours of service regulations plus roads and industry campaigns will be of interest. Some of those I speak with may be interested in what we do here.

The days of Aussie drivers being hoodwinked into dud jobs in the US appears to be long over. Some of the stories I have read of the industry there are interesting to say the least. I have just finished reading ‘Driver: Six Weeks in an Eighteen Wheeler’ by Phillip Wilson. It shows some of the good and some of the bad of the industry in the US.

An article in Owner//Driver’s stablemate publication ATN recently spoke of the supposed driver shortage in the US, saying it is really a pay shortage. Depending on what you read and where, there are up to 40,000 unfilled jobs now, while some fleets have a turnover rate nearing 100 per cent.

The reasons of why we have a shortage here are the same. Drivers are getting older, younger people are not wanting to marry a truck and live that life for years, and easier jobs are providing better pay and lifestyle, minus the motorists trying to kill you each day and the road authority officers wanting to take a week’s pay off you for being 10 minutes over time. Why would anyone think we have a shortage?

Vanners’ education

Now let’s talk about caravans. Some of you who follow social media may have seen a VicRoads and Victorian Police event being promoted on January 4 and 5 this year. Held at Newmerella, five kilometres west of Orbost on the Princes Highway, it was touted as targeting bigger trailers and vans. However, this event was aimed at education, not enforcement, although some vanners were issued infringements for not having suitable mirrors.

I have read some of the comments on how it panned out. Importantly, most vans were right on their weight limit or over, those involved were surprised at both the number of overweight camper trailers and that some caravan owners drove many kilometres out of their way to attend and have their rigs checked.

I have tried unsuccessfully so far to have a similar event in Dubbo, but this might start the ball rolling elsewhere.

There were three different caravan groups in attendance at Newmerella, all wanting to watch, learn and report. Overall the consensus was it was a worthwhile and well run event.

Let us hope more can be done to help those with vans be safer on the road to the benefit of all.

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