We all know the uncomfortable feeling. You are driving along a highway at the speed limit. Suddenly, a semi-trailer appears out of nowhere and begins tail-gating your vehicle. It seems the driver won’t be satisfied until you pull over and let him pass.
There’s a likely explanation for this risky behaviour — the imposition on the driver by his employer of an unrealistic deadline for the delivery of the load. That’s why he’s speeding.
In Australia in 2017, we should not tolerate a situation where unchecked market forces compromise public safety. This is why it is almost incomprehensible that the Turnbull Government abolished the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal last year with no alternative road safety strategy in place.
The former Labor Government created the RSRT in 2012 to set minimum pay rates that would allow truck drivers to make a fair living while removing incentives for them to adopt unsafe practices such as speeding or, even worse, abusing drugs to stay awake. The creation of the tribunal was a road safety measure.
It was a position based on extensive consultation with trucking companies, the Transport Workers Union and safety experts who agreed to strip incentives for dangerous behaviour out of the system in the public interest. That is why it is so disappointing that the Government scrapped the tribunal after some owner drivers rebelled against a finding on pay rates which they believed was unreasonable. Rather than looking rationally at their concerns, the Prime Minister whipped up the controversy in the lead-up to the federal election as part of his broader war on trade unions in the lead-up to the federal election.
It is always a mistake to allow politics to compromise decisions relating to road safety, particularly when our road toll is rising after years of decline.
The Bureau of Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Economics has reported there were 1300 fatalities on Australian roads last year — 8 percent more than in 2015. Fatalities in December of last year were up 23 percent on December, 2015. Trucks account for only 2 percent of registered vehicles in Australia. Yet they are involved in 16 percent of all traffic accidents.
These disturbing facts require a serious policy response, but since RSRT was abolished, there is now no national safety plan for heavy vehicles.
That’s not good enough.
A serious approach would also involve addressing the structural characteristics of the transport system that encourage unsafe driving.
The Government has a responsibility to respond seriously to the fact that the road toll is once again headed in the wrong direction. A serious policy response should involve greater investment on roads to ensure they are in good condition.