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Generational Change

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Having joined National Transport Insurance in 2018, Adam Gibson has continued with the work formerly performed by the now-retired Owen Driscoll on road transport safety, research and advocacy at the NTI-funded National Truck Accident Research Centre in Brisbane. The Report’s Editorial Adviser is Associate Professor Kim Hassall who is an acknowledged and well-known industry expert specialising in transport and logistics and a principal consultant and researcher in the field of freight analytics and productivity.

PM: Is the industry making inroads towards reducing fatigue related incidents?
AG: I’m very happy to report that in the 2017 survey we saw the lowest proportion of fatigue losses in the history of the NTARC report: down to 9.8 per cent of our large losses. That reflects the huge amount of effort that has taken place across this industry.

PM: The Report shows in 2017, 83 per cent of multi-vehicle incidents involving fatalities were not the fault of the NTI-insured driver. What can be done about this?
AG: This was a decrease from the 93 per cent figure seen in the 2015 data but this disturbing statistic has been greater than 80 per cent for ten years yet we’ve seen very little action on this from transport authorities and minimal recognition of this from mainstream media. This has to be addressed because we can continue to progressively solve all of our single vehicle accidents and issues and still not have touched more than 65 per cent of those fatalities.

PM: In the 2019 report for the first time you have evaluated the contribution of suicide to these multi vehicle fatal accidents. What did you find?
AG: We developed criteria ranging from ‘strongly indicated’ to ‘strongly counter-indicated’ and using that found 37.5 per cent of fatal multi-vehicle incidents were either indicated, or strongly indicated, to involve suicide. This does not represent a final determination of whether a particular incident was in fact a suicide. That determination has always been, and remains the role of, the Coroner. However, this analysis provides a significant insight into challenges which may exist in trying to address multi-vehicle road deaths involving trucks and cars where the light vehicle is at fault.

PM: The Report isolates steer tyre failures as an area of growing concern. What can be done to address this?
AG: I’m not suggesting that the incidents are results from defects in the tyres themselves. I’d suggest the vast majority of these are around inflation pressures and perhaps there is also a lesson here to be learned around what operators and regulators check when inspecting a vehicle. We could get a lot more value by shifting our focus from lights and reflectors, which has received a tremendous amount of regulatory effort, onto just checking the condition and pressure of steer tyres of trucks.

PM: Would twin steer set-ups be a benefit?
AG: I think there is an opportunity here to learn from the Western Australian example around regulatory reform that encourages the take-up of twin steer prime movers where they are suitable for the task. That would not totally eliminate the problem but would at least improve the positive outcome in these sorts of failures.
The other interesting thought is around tyre pressure monitoring systems and if they could be simpler and available at a lower cost aimed at just monitoring those key steer tyres. This is something the industry can address ourselves.

PM: It seems that every few days the evening news shows a truck on fire. What can be done to reduce that issue?
AG: Non-impact electrical fires almost all fall into the two causal categories of starter motor cables having their insulation worn through or around dubious after-market electrical work. There are some simple changes which can be made in that space and we should be able to see further reductions for not much effort. The rate of fires initiating from wheel end components such as bearings or brakes has remained steady at 33 per cent.

PM: Do you think the industry will continue to show improvements in the rates of these major losses?
AG: We have achieved an almost linear trend for the improvement in heavy vehicle safety performance in Australia and are close to being just one generation away from zero heavy vehicle-involved fatalities. Logically we will encounter diminishing returns at some point and won’t be able to maintain that rate of improvement but using some quite conservative models I believe that by 2050 we could see zero heavy vehicle-involved deaths in Australia. It’s not going to be easy but we have the opportunity and moral imperative to stay on that linear trend line for as long as we can. At NTI we have taken the position that we will be more active in this space. We will use our data, our knowledge and our size to work with industry to lead on safety. So expect to hear a lot more from us in coming months as we dig down on the practical nitty gritty things an operator can do to address the incidence of not just insurance claims but to continue to improve safety for the road using community.

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