NSW truck deaths have increased by more than 86 per cent in 12 months, as police report increased heavy vehicle traffic connected to major construction projects.
In the 12 months to September, deaths have leapt from 29 to 54, by far the biggest increase since at least 2009 when the federal government first started releasing counts of fatal crashes involving heavy vehicles.
The statistics, released quarterly by the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE), singled out deaths involving articulated trucks. They are among the largest vehicles on the road, including road trains and B-doubles, and identifiable by their detachable trailer.
Nearly half of all truck deaths occurred in NSW, which accounted for 45 per cent of the 121 deaths involving articulated trucks in Australia – the largest contributor to the national death toll which increased 11 per cent over the period.
NSW was also the only state to experience an increase, Victoria’s rates falling 4.5 per cent while Queensland’s fell 14.8 per cent. During the same period fatal truck accidents in NSW involving articulated trucks were also up 62 per cent, from 26 to 42.
Deaths from accidents involving heavy rigid trucks – often smaller vehicles where the trailer is attached to the cabin – also increased by 6.3 per cent, up from 32 to 34 deaths, during the same 12-month period.
Asked about the figures, NSW Police said it had seen an increase in heavy vehicle traffic on all roads connected to major infrastructure and construction projects.
Ben Maguire, chief executive of the Australian Trucking Association, which represents transport operators, said he had seen trucks working on the NSW government’s WestConnex project on the road with clear safety breaches.
“I did a roadside blitz with the police and the condition of some of those vehicles was outrageous,” he said.
“There were vehicles that had speed limiters deactivated which had recorded significant speeds that day.”
A spokesperson from the Sydney Motorway Corporation, which is managing the WestConnex project, said its contractors have comprehensive site safety and compliance systems in place, including truck safety auditing schemes.
“As part of this, roadworthiness checks and truck audit inspections are regularly carried out to ensure truck safety,” he said.
The condition of some trucks was outrageous
Ben Maguire, chief executive of the Australian Trucking AssociationThe Transport Workers Union National Secretary Tony Sheldon described the statistics as “shocking and saddening but unfortunately not surprising”.
He said drivers were under financial pressure which was leading to less vehicle maintenance and more risky behaviour on the road.
“This pressure is coming from the top of the supply chain – the wealthy retailers, manufacturers and state governments involved in waste and infrastructure projects, which are continually driving down transport costs,” he said.
Training standards have come under the spotlight this year following concerns drivers were being poorly trained.
In September, the Australian Drivers Association, wrote to Roads and Maritime Services after receiving “a nearly uncountable” number of comments and concerns about the state of truck-driver training in NSW.
“If the RMS doesn’t act swiftly, we will own the cause of the next M5 blockage or the next dog trailer rollover on the Cahill Expressway,” the body said.
“The potential for loss of life and serious injury is very real.”
At the time truck training schools told Fairfax Media that basic driver skills were no longer being taught.
Some drivers were not shown how to descend a hill using gears – a requirement on some steep slopes – while others were taught how to use a complex Roadranger gearbox, which has between nine and 18 speeds, in a day.
“The gear-changing competencies have been watered down that much that anyone can scrape through a test,” trainer Steven Shiels said.
NSW Roads and Maritime Services, which sets training standards, said it would review its heavy vehicle assessment scheme and was considering bringing in minimum training hours.