Uneducated motorists dicing with danger

OPINION: Ignorant car drivers who insist on jousting with heavy vehicles can expect a negative outcome


A month or so ago I read a report in Brisbane’s Courier Mail newspaper attributed to Gary Mahon, CEO of the Queensland Transport Association. Gary commented that most small vehicle drivers appeared not competent when dealing with heavy vehicles. I must absolutely agree with Gary’s concerns. However, I contend that that ignorance of that section of the driving public stems from the failure of this industry itself to address the ignorance. It is so much in today’s heavy vehicle driving job description to accommodate that ignorance.

I accept that the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has spent considerable monies to give some knowledge of the subject. I have in the past been critical of that effort. I considered it to be more in keeping with developing a warm and fuzzy feeling by ATA directorship than providing real knowledge to ‘most’ casual drivers.

One glaring example that this ignorance goes beyond ‘casual’ drivers. The stickers on the rear of many trailers advising that ‘if you cannot see my mirrors, I cannot see you’ is that example. In its present form it is misleading in the extreme. Had it been designed to read, ‘if you can’t see me in my mirrors’, it might have a better chance of providing good advice.

Of course, one needs to understand the job description to appreciate the significance of the wording. Another example of bad advice is to slow down. All driving is speeding, that’s why we have speed limits.

If a ‘nervous Nelly’ is driving a vehicle with an inaccurate speed measuring device – and the inaccurate devices never show a speed faster than the actual speed – then the slowdown advice creates more friction in the traffic flow. Friction in the traffic flow creates frustration and initiates tailgating and irrational overtaking manoeuvres.

Road safety management need to recognise that most drivers have adopted the posted limit as a benchmark speed and encouragement should be given to conform to the benchmark speed where possible, not to simply slow down. If one is transporting a D 27 at 120 tonnes and five metres wide, speed must be reduced. But for vehicles that have no such obvious limitations, a benchmark speed would affect a better safety outcome.


I recently returned from a contract delivering product to Aurukun in North Queensland. The lack of responsible driving discipline was demonstrated on several occasions. On a corrugated dusty section of road, I was surprised to have a 4WD over in the table drain on the left. Talk about optimistic!

On more than one occasion a slow vehicle with several frustrated drivers behind on reaching an overtaking lane has sped up, denying those following the opportunity to overtake in a safe manner. Frustrating in the extreme.

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In the early days of the Road Transport Forum, several posters were developed advising motorists of points to be aware of. My strong view has always been to have comprehensive driver instruction part of the secondary school curriculum.

As my departed carpenter friend John often stated, “measure twice and cut once”. And John was a trained carpenter. Guess work had no role in his outcomes. Unfortunately, driving is an activity that provides no opportunity to measure twice. Mistakes can be disastrous and often are.

Yes, pay a fair rate but let’s stop judging others by our own level of integrity.


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 OwnerDriver 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 

Photography: Greg Bush

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