Truck speeding, on TV, yet again

On Tuesday last week (27 March), the ABC’s 7:30 Report carried a lengthy story about truck speeding and speed limit tampering.

The ABC had extensive behind-the-scenes footage of NSW Police and RMS Inspectors stopping and energetically searching trucks for speed limiter tampering and over-ride devices, and administering a breathtest to a Toll driver.

You can watch it on-line here.

By my count, this is the fourth piece of major TV coverage of ‘speeding trucks’ that has appeared on Sydney and/or national prime-time TV in less than six weeks.

No-one in our industry should under-estimate the impact this will have in reinforcing the difficult public attitude to the road freight industry in NSW and, especially, around Sydney.

Something like 75% of long-distance freight in Australia travels to, through, or from NSW.

… a threat to all of us

It was pleasing to see the 7:30 Report acknowledge that the road transport industry has supported the NSW Government’s current enforcement campaign. Sadly, the ABC did not run any interviews with any leading operators or any associations.

The NSW Minister for Roads, the Hon Duncan Gay, gave an impressive performance. In a set-piece interview with the ABC, Minister Gay made it very clear that he is committed to stamping out speeding by heavy vehicles on NSW highways.

It was good to see the Minister make a very clear statement that he believes the vast majority of road transport operators do the right thing.

The Minister even said that he hopes the reputation of the road transport industry will improve if government can eliminate the “rogue companies”.

It’s a passion that seems to be shared by Premier O’Farrell. The Premier’s spokesman, Brad Burden, now regularly refers to the government taking action against “rogue truckies”.

The President of our NSW Association, Barney Hayes, was actually with Minister Gay when the media first reported that NSW Authorities’ were raiding an operator who’s been implicated in a triple fatality at Menangle Bridge, on the Hume Highway.

Barney immediately congratulated the Minister, and told him our part of the industry would back his action. The Minister publicly thanked Barney for that support at our recent NSW conference.

It’s impossible to excuse any operator or driver running a B-Double up and down the Hume at 130 or 142 kmh.

And even though our members are based in regional and rural Australia, big-city media stories like this are bad news for our members; just the same as they are for the rest of the industry.

There are more and more ‘sea-changers’ and ‘tree-changers’ moving into regional and rural towns. They bring with them their big-city attitudes and you can feel the impact: quite a few rural towns are becoming noticeably less willing to provide truck parking, or approve truck routes.

The damage to the industry’s reputation that’s done by bad apples on Sesame Street is a threat to every operator, even in the bush.

Now, let’s see Chain of Responsibility put to work …

The Minister’s done and said all the right things on television.

But can we hope to see the NSW authorities go further?

According to media reports, one of the three trucking companies whose vehicles were shown on TV last night regularly carts beer up the Hume Highway, from Melbourne to Sydney.

Now, most brewers are pretty large corporations. They employ a fair few senior executives and have some number of staff available to manage the scheduling and dispatch of their loads.

Will we now see the NSW authorities investigating the consignors who loaded freight onto these speeding trucks?

Will we see the contracts, schedules, dispatch records and delivery receipts held by these customers being seized by the Authorities?

Will the Authorities mount an investigation to determine whether these consignors were contributing to these operators allegedly running up the highway at “breakneck speeds”?

It seems just possible that we might!

Peter Wells from NSW Roads and Maritime Services has recently hinted to ATN Magazine that RMS will be looking to see if there are any Chain of Responsibility elements to these recent speeding offences.

Even more importantly, Minister Gay has promised the NSW public that he’s willing to pursue the full Chain of Responsibility: 

“I am disappointed at this small number of rogues that have broken the law and have sought to compete unfairly through illegal practices.

I am also aware of claims that drivers are forced to speed by loaders, consigners and other parties in the supply chain. It is critical that all parties in the supply chain fulfil their legal responsibility to take reasonable steps to ensure trucks are not speeding.

We are hitting the trucks now and if we find there are outside influences in the chain of responsibility causing these illegal practices we will pursue them with the same vigour.

(Hansard, NSW Parliament 28 March)

… “cut off their food”

Every proud Maroon knows that the first Chain of Responsibility legislation in Australia was enacted in Queensland in the late 1990s.

The State Minister who gave the go-ahead was the Hon Vaughan Johnson, the then National Party Member for Gregory (he’s still the sitting Member, and is now Chief Whip for Campbell Newman’s LNP).

Like Minister Gay in NSW today, Minister Johnson was someone who really knew both the transport industry and farming.

I vividly recall the explanation of why Minister Johnson backed the Chain of Responsibility:

“If you’re a farmer, you know that you can’t control a mouse plague just by getting more cats.

“Sure, you need cats for the house.

“But to fix a bigger problem, get out into the field, cut off their food.”

Still makes sense, nearly fifteen years later.

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