A Cootes Transport crash last week has awakened concerns over Truck maintenance and Self-regulation. During the wake of the crash, maintenance accreditation and industry self-regulation were brought out.
If trucks were found failing on the regulations over safety on the roads, the community will lose its trucks over the industry, as emphasized by Stuart St Clair, CEO of the Australian Trucking Association (ATA). “When an operator, large or small, fails to keep their truck fleet to a strong standard of maintenance it can lead to a situation that causes the deaths of innocent people,” St Clair says, not mentioning Cootes Transport.
He highlighted the maintenance responsibility of the owners of trucks to the members of the ATA. “The managers who control the cheque books must understand the absolute importance of spending the money necessary to maintain a safe fleet.
“Incidents like this damage our industry as a whole. The ATA and our member associations work tirelessly across Australia to maintain strong relationships with government and the community in order to make sure our members get a fair go.”
ST Claire further added that non-compliance of fleets with regulations concerning maintenance is the reason that wears down the relationship between the trucking industry and the government. “If trucking operators aren’t trusted to self-regulate and ensure the safety of those around us, we’ll soon find the industry isn’t invited to the table when these policies are discussed. Regulations and rules will simply be bought in and enforced without an input from the industry,” he says.
“The community must be able to have confidence that the truck they drive next to on the road is a safe and well maintained vehicle. There’s no excuse for poor maintenance. If a vehicle has a fault, fix it or ground it yourself. Don’t wait until it comes back to haunt you.”
ST Clair was joined by Professor Ken Coghill of Monash University, an academic and former politician who said that the Cootes Transport crash is “a worrying sign for the future of self-regulation”.
Being an accountability expert, Coghill considers Cootes vehicles’ extent of maintenance as “a clear indication that their faults were not trifling”. “Had the operator implemented its legal obligations to maintain the vehicles and practiced ethically responsible management, the roads would have been safer and the reputations of senior management intact,” he writes in a letter to the Australian Financial Review.
“This unfortunate case highlights the need to improve the design and operation of regulatory schemes that rely on self-regulation.”
Moreover, Duncan Gay, New South Wales Roads Minister joins St Clair and Coghill in airing other concerns sparked by the Cootes Transport crash, which killed two people on October 1. He expressed worries over the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme’s (NHVAS) effectiveness.
In the belief that a “pick and choose” practice exists, Gay asserted that trucking companies are deciding among which of the private auditors will inspect their trucks. He emphasized last week that one of the reasons for the shortfalls of fleets is that anyone using the NSW roads can get accreditation in other states. For example, in the case of Cootes Transport, it bases its vehicles in Victoria.
“We have the safest fleet in the country, but we have trucks crossing our borders that do not have to be inspected annually in NSW,” Gay says.
“Under the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme, trucks are examined in the state where a company is accredited. An auditor checks that maintenance work has been done and that the company follows all the business rules for vehicle maintenance for the states they operate in.”
“NSW has the largest, best equipped and most active heavy vehicle inspection capabilities in the country, and we spend more on enforcement and compliance than any other state, but we still contend with being the ‘through state’ for the eastern seaboard of Australia for trucks from other jurisdictions. NSW carries 60 per cent of the national road freight task.”
“I want to make it very clear, NSW has the most comprehensive heavy vehicle inspection regime in Australia with the largest annual funding commitment of any state in the country. At more than $70 million dollars a year, the NSW program accounts for more than 50 per cent of the $130 million approximately spent nationally on heavy vehicle compliance and enforcement.”
“NSW has more than 300 Vehicle Inspectors within Roads and Maritime Services alone, 285 of which work at the frontline on our roads and highways every day. Last financial year, we inspected more than two million heavy vehicles, intercepted more than 206,000 heavy vehicles and identified more than 36,000 defects.”
Due to this, last week, Gay wrote to Bruce Baird, chairman of the new National Heavy Vehicle Regulator. He is asking for a review on how truck maintenance is signed off on other states.
“I have written to the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) asking for a review of the effectiveness of the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme which deals with the maintenance management of trucks enrolled in the scheme. I have sought from the National Regulator assurance any such review would focus on the effectiveness of the scheme.”
With this, Baird said Gay has good reason to be concerned. “”I’m sympathetic to his comments”, said Mr Baird, a former NSW transport minister. “We are having a teleconference tomorrow with the board. There appears to be some discrepancies between the standards of the various auditors.”
For instance, Cootes Transport registers its vehicles in Victoria, but uses the NSW roads. However, many among the auditors have different standards. Also, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator has just taken over last year to conduct the accreditation for fleets. Because of this, accreditations by the state bodies are still being carried out.
Gay’s claims about the NHVAS specifically when it comes to audit, was shared by St Clair saying, “In our own accreditation scheme, TruckSafe, we decide who does the audits. Our list of TruckSafe approved auditors consists of the best and most professional heavy vehicle auditors in the country.”
“It’s a much more robust approach, and its benefits have been confirmed by official NSW statistics. These show that TruckSafe operators have a much better record on maintenance compliance than operators in NHVAS,” said St Clair.