Big Rigs Article #2

Trawling the trucking related pages of the social media web sites I’m struck by the negative attitudes that many are more than happy to publicly air.

Reports of a big one getting whacked doing more than a dollar twenty are always greeted by cries of a “fair go” for ol’ mate, “he was floating off the top o’ the dipper”. Equally, questioning why a mates step-cousin got whacked for misspelling Thargomindah or Woolloomooloo are met with cries of governments motivated by unlawful corporate greed and officials hell bent on halting the progress of our nation. There are many more examples of this backward mentality exhibited by a noisy minority, most of whom I’ll warrant are as quiet as church mice except when behind the veil of cyberspace or when keying up the hand-piece.

I’m incensed as to why drivers purporting to be professional think that some of the more dubious activities should be defended and left bewildered when a select few start preaching about the global conspiracy, illegal corporate bodies calling themselves governments and the various other warped ideals some appear to hold as truth.

Let’s face it, we’re professionals in a competitive industry that’s regulated (some may say unfairly) for the sake of our own safety and that of the general public. We’re not alone in this fact; take a look at the building industry… Would you tolerate having a house built with cheap footings or a couple of roof trusses missing to save a few dollars? One only has to take a minute to consider why we’re regulated to start making sense of it all.

Back in the day, when traffic generally was lighter, trucks were smaller and the ribbons of black top generally had more separation from the urban sprawl, we did our own thing. Generally things worked out and when it didn’t we looked after our own. Times were simpler and the trucking fraternity was more close knit thanks to a smaller pool of drivers and less destinations. As the industry has grown, the friendships have become more remote and the traffic has increased. The general public don’t restrict their automotive sojourns to sunny Sunday afternoons, more and more, personal transportation is taken for granted and travelling greater distances on a regular basis has become the norm for Joe Citizen. Increased media coverage has also added fuel to the political debate and a greater (often negative) public awareness of the carnage that results from a big one going over.

Because we failed to regulate ourselves properly, often pushed by suppliers and greedy bosses, but sometimes just because of a cowboy attitude, more and more laws have been introduced to curb those that flout the laws or just don’t know when to quit.

Technology fails to keep up with the problem too. Average speed cameras are, in my opinion, a far more useful tool than point cameras. Able to protect stretches of road from all speeding vehicles whilst tolerating the occasional lapse of concentration, they’ve been poorly implemented to date with most only covering stretches of open road rather than the towns that dot our highways and a political system that’s too impotent to stretch the coverage to all road users. It’s all well and good to use this technology to really only check a trucks speed limiter is functioning correctly but it looses a lot of its capability to protect the road users if a P plater can barrel along at 120 overtaking on double lines etc, as they’re all to often guilty of doing, without repercussion.

The Labour Government established the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal with a belief that increasing freight rates would make for safer roads. My personal opinion is that whilst increasing rates to levels that result in profitable businesses is a positive move it will have little impact on road safety. The final decision rests on the shoulders of we the drivers and it’s us that hold the key to safety. There are already wage awards in place to ensure fair compensation for a days work yet workplace agreements continue to be approved that erode these rates and many operators still don’t honour the Awards in the first place so how can another tier of government bureaucracy enforce something that’s been going on since Noah agreed to his infamous livestock shipping contract?

What ever the rates, we as a species are greed motivated and will do what we can to get more out of the time we have. It can be a positive trait that drives us to strive for more and has driven civilisations as far as they’ve come but it’s been the undoing of a few too. If an overnight run from Sydney to Melbourne netts the driver $500 do you really think giving him $600 will make him take less risks or do one less trip each week? If you do I’ve got a bridge I can sell you in a top Sydney location for a really good price.

The vast majority of trips are made without incident and statistically two thirds of those incidents that do occur aren’t the result of a heavy vehicles actions but when things go hugely pear shaped we’ve seen the results on the media and it’s sometimes apparent that poor operating procedures are a key contributor, so why shore up profitability to keep these corner cutters operating?

The answer lies in weeding out the cowboys and keeping them out. Introduce a system of federal operating licences for operators/drivers and attach them to individuals, not corporate bodies. Revocation of your licence sees you out of the industry, heck we do it for football clubs, why not those in the transport industry. Obviously these licences would attract a fee but if the profit was used to audit operators and ensure wages were at or above the award level and superannuation was being paid correctly half the problems would disappear.

An added benefit for drivers to having something akin to the American CDL would be losing the right to drive a heavy vehicle for commercial gain wouldn’t have to directly impact on their privilege to operate a personal vehicle, thereby limiting the socio-economic impact on their families if they fail to conduct themselves professionally.

At the end of the day we’d have a transport industry that incorporates traceable accountability, better statistical information for future decisions, drivers getting paid fair wages, cost cutting operators being forced, by pure economics, to tender at sustainable rates rather than cutting the throats of the responsible operators and close to zero negative impact on the economy as opposed to the detrimental affect that increasing freight rates through legislation could have.

While the maxim “Without trucks, Australia Stops” holds truth the inverse is also not to be ignored… “Without consumers, the trucks stop”.