Governments at all levels face challenges to provide the necessary infrastructure for the road transport industry to operate in the most efficient, effective and safe manner possible.
Growing road use requirements including increased heavy vehicle volumes and freight loads, public transport expansion and urban congestion combined with an ageing infrastructure subject to extreme weather events, are some of the difficulties facing road managers throughout the country.
Stakeholders stressed that road transport infrastructure is a productivity issue as well as a safety issue and that roads, freight infrastructure, urban planning, regulatory controls and facilities are not keeping pace with the current and projected volumes of freight movement and technological advances.
Road quality and maintenance
Stakeholders raised issues with ageing, unsurfaced and poorly maintained roads in the Australian road network. Narrow lanes, uneven surfaces and unsafe shoulders were seen by the South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA) to present a particular risk, with SARTA president Ms Sharon Middleton insisting that road construction projects needed to include road maintenance funding for the life of a road.
HPS Transport submitted that poor quality roads added to the costs and risks of the transport industry, due to slower travelling times, increased maintenance costs from damage done to vehicles and the increased chance of serious or fatal collisions. It pointed particularly to a heavy vehicle roll-over hazard on a 185-kilometre stretch of the Great Eastern Highway, between Coolgardie and Southern Cross in Western Australia.
The safety implications of poor roads were a focus of a number of submitters including the Australian Trucking Association (ATA), which cited statistics from Austroads that the road is 'a causation factor in about 30 per cent of all crashes and is a factor in the severity of 100 per cent of crashes’. The ATA also expressed concerns that the Australian Government invested in roads under the National Land Transport Act 2014 but safety was not an object of the Act.
The ATA argued that the Australian Government should change its approach to funding road projects to: require that project assessments use the willingness-to-pay approach in valuing the lives saved and injuries avoided from safety improvements; prioritise funding for projects aimed at minimising road safety risks; and require the adoption of safe system principles for project design.
The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons referred in its submission to the Australian Road Assessment Program star rating of roads, ranging from one star (least safe) to five stars (most safe) for road safety. It contended that:
… seven per cent of all road travel in Australia is undertaken on one-star roads, and 28 per cent of travel is undertaken on two-star roads. It is estimated that road deaths and severe injuries could be minimised by up to one-third if Australia achieves its target of having 90 per cent of travel on National Highways to be on 3-star or better roads, and 80 per cent of travel on state roads to be 3-star or better.
Road transport and road safety advocate Mr Rod Hannifey pointed out that road deformations damaged trucks and the trucks in turn damaged the roads. He reported that data collected from trucks on the 'impacts from road irregularities' could be used to identify roads requiring maintenance. He observed from his own truck the considerable impact that poor roads could have on heavy vehciles:
The worst impact so far was 2.3 G. Over twice the weight of the load on the road. We would be taken off the road and fined severely for such an overload, yet are expected to both suffer the damage to the truck and driver and simply accept this.
The Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) called for increased funding by the Australian Government for the largely federally funded National Land Transport Network. The TMR pointed to its four-year $23 billion program of road and transport infrastructure projects, the Queensland Transport and Roads Investment Program, which included $3.12 billion allocated for maintenance projects, and noted that:
The Queensland Government continues to steadily increase its commitment towards funding of maintenance for the road network in Queensland. The Australian Government only contributes some 50 per cent towards its share of these maintenance costs.
Rural and regional roads
Engineers Australia questioned the allocation of road funding and the focus on urban over rural roads. Engineering economist Mr Scott Elaurant told the committee that urban projects 'soak up a lot of the budget' and that budgets to 'maintain and improve the condition of rural roads, which is where three-quarters of fatalities occur, have if anything shrunk'. He argued for that imbalance to be redressed.
The Northern Territory Road Transport Association (NTRTA) and Western Roads Federation (WRF) advocated for further investment by the federal government to ameliorate issues for regional areas including the need for road and bridge widening, overtaking lanes and the removal of low power lines. NTRTA and WRF raised concerns about 'inequitable' federal road investment, noting that the entire federal blackspot funding for the Northern Territory in 2018–19 was less than the money spent by the Victorian Government on a single East Melbourne intersection.
The Northern Territory Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics (Northern Territory department) pointed to road reliability issues in the Northern Territory caused by wet season flooding and the lack of alternatives to major highway links connecting the Territory with Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia. The Northern Territory department noted that it could be 'cost prohibitive for industry to invest in the Territory given [its] road reliability issues and high vehicle maintenance costs of heavy vehicles using unsealed roads'.
The Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association (ALRTA) commented on what it saw as the 'appalling' state of roads in most parts of rural Australia due to 'chronic under investment' from successive federal, state and local governments. It argued that 'we should be able to get a B-double to almost every farm gate in Australia'.
ALRTA asserted that many rural freight routes simply could not support high productivity vehicles capable of carrying heavier loads. This frustrated agricultural producers' efforts to reduce freight costs. ALRTA argued that to be competitive in the global market, Australia must identify the 'most important economic and tourism roads across rural and regional Australia' and 'make the necessary investment to drive down freight costs on these corridors'. ALRTA submitted that the Australian Government should:
Consult with agricultural producers, rural carriers, processors, exporters and tourism stakeholders to identify the most important freight routes in rural and regional Australia;
Assess the quality of each freight route;
Establish a minimum service level standard for the rural freight and tourism network;
Prioritise upgrades on key freight routes to rapidly remove critical safety and productivity bottlenecks;
Establish a longer-term plan to upgrade the entire network to meet minimum service level standards; and
Leverage matching funds from State and Local Governments to maximise overall upgrade potential and ensure that all current programs are working towards a common goal.
The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) reported that it had received an $8 million grant over two years to work with local governments across Australia to assess road infrastructure assets, with a primary focus on bridges. This program, which commenced in late 2019, would assess the condition of local government infrastructure and identify the upgrades necessary to enable use by heavy vehicles. The NHVR suggested that a 'coordinated effort is required between all levels of government to continue to support these funding arrangements, such as a dedicated annual fund for assessments as well as capital upgrades and maintenance'.
The Western Australian grain export and supply company Co-operative Bulk Handling (CBH Group) informed the committee of the Revitalising Agricultural Regional Freight Strategy in Western Australia, which was guiding future state government investment in infrastructure projects, particularly in grain growing regions, over the next 10 to 15 years. In CBH Group's view, this was 'an important step in improving supply chain efficiencies'.
The Livestock and Rural Transport Association of Western Australia (LRTAWA) expanded on the efficiency implications of road management practices in rural areas, observing that 'decisions on access for heavy vehicles are frequently made on the basis of protecting an ageing, un-maintained asset' which prevented high productivity vehicles from operating on the road network. LRTAWA gave an example of a freight connectivity issue affecting the abattoirs near Treeton in Western Australia:
Long standing access of approximately eight years to Treeton Road North (a 4.5km section of road) was suddenly denied at the request of the Shire due to alleged road geometry issues. This required transporters delivering cattle to the abattoir to stop prior to Treeton Road North and break up into a smaller combination and ferry animals in. The remaining animals had to be left in a trailer on the side of the road whilst this happened. This restriction also had the effect of severing connectivity of the route between feedlots and abattoirs with the alternative route being 35km further and taking 40 minutes longer. This route requires the driver to drive on a dangerous road and travel through a small town. The previous route had been used for eight years without incident.
LRTAWA addressed the perception that heavy vehicles are to blame for the poor state of roads, countering that 'if the roads were built to a high standard and maintained under a program of preventative maintenance the perceived impact of heavy vehicles would be less'. NatRoad noted that planning for improved road infrastructure had to take place in tandem with reform of road access requirements.
CBH Group expressed strong concern at a MainRoads WA proposal to allow local and state governments to refuse applications for access for heavy vehicle combinations 'unless the freight generator agrees to enter into a road maintenance agreement or otherwise provides funding to the road manager'. CBH Group argued that structural changes to the funding that local governments received from state and federal governments needed to be addressed before resorting to user charges.
Some inquiry participants expressed frustration that despite the increased demand for transport to support online shopping, waste collection and construction, urban centres did not cater for the needs of the road transport industry. The potential scale of the issue was illustrated by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development, which submitted that urban freight was predicted to grow by nearly 60 per cent over the 20 years to 2040.
WRF outlined some of the challenges faced by heavy vehicle drivers in urban environments including narrow suburban streets, low power lines and trees, and the lack of street parking for loading and delivery services. WRF also pointed to curfews and other access restrictions that 'push the road freight task back into higher peak congestion periods'. In late 2019, Toll Group estimated that congestion cost the company $350 million per year ($8.20 per vehicle per day) in lost business time costs, extra vehicle operating costs and air pollution costs.
From its experience in engaging with urban planners, WRF concluded that the teaching of town planning did not consider 'the logistics of supporting and sustaining a community or city'. WRF reported it could not identify regulation that 'defines a road envelope of both width and height that protects as of right heavy vehicles operating in suburban streets'. It recommended that 'consideration should be given to developing a set of national guidelines for town planners regarding road envelopes and other factors required to facilitate the efficient and safe road-based logistics support in metropolitan areas.'
Sometimes referred to as the first or last mile in a freight task, the connectivity of freight routes through urban areas with ports and other metropolitan locations is an important productivity issue for the industry.
Several submitters raised the need to secure freight networks between agricultural regions and ports from urban encroachment. LRTAWA singled out the freight network in Western Australia between Kwinana and the Albany and Brookton Highways as a case in point.
The Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation (ARTIO) argued that if there was to be intermodal transport and the building of Inland Rail, planning was required to make it 'connect with the road transport side of things and enable efficient movement of freight from one mode to another mode'. ARTIO proposed the establishment of a formal consultative mechanism to channel the views of 'registered organisations which represent the industrial interests of prime contractors, employers and workers in the industry' to all levels of government.
Policy issues regarding the access to urban areas for high productivity vehicles are discussed in chapter 7.
Additional Road Safety Infrastructure
ALRTA and Engineers Australia pointed to low-cost, effective safety infrastructure such as rumble strips, wider median strips, wider road shoulders and flashing hazard lights and recommended that governments 'should be implementing these types of specific interventions wherever possible'. ALRTA also emphasised the safety importance of mobile phone infrastructure for drivers in rural and remote areas.
The Victorian Transport Accident Commission (TAC) nominated the provision of protective barriers on the centre-line and along road sides to absorb the energy of colliding vehicles as a priority for the Victorian road network. TAC claimed that this measure had resulted in an 80 per cent reduction in run-off-road and head-on crashes. TAC maintained that '[heavy] vehicle operators stand to be beneficiaries as about one in four [fatalities or serious injuries] from heavy vehicle crashes arise from single-vehicle or head-on crashes'. TAC also noted that tactile centre lines and edge lines had been effective on the Bruce Highway in Queensland 'where casualty crashes have reduced by approximately 25%'.
Despite the reported safety benefits of wire roadside barriers, a number of submitters expressed concerns that when installed too close to the road, heavy vehicle operators had difficulty negotiating entrances and exits and were prevented from making unscheduled roadside stops to change tyres, adjust loads, conduct repairs, or manage fatigue.
Rest areas and truck stops
Rest areas and truck stops are essential road infrastructure for heavy vehicle operators, providing amenities for drivers and performing important road safety functions.
Under the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL), drivers are required to rest after driving a maximum number of hours. In addition to allowing drivers to comply with fatigue management requirements, rest areas and truck stops allow drivers to pull over for toilet breaks, check their load, perform repairs such as for blown tyres and check for damage from animal strikes. Livestock transporters need safe accessible places to check animal welfare.
Stakeholders consistently raised concerns with the committee on the inadequate number of formal rest areas and informal truck stops available to drivers and deficiencies in the quality and size of the facilities available.
Mr Rod Hannifey illustrated to the committee how facilities designed specifically for the use of truck drivers by road authorities can nonetheless be unfit for purpose, by providing the following example:
There's a parking bay on the Shepparton road which is designed in the current context of B-doubles, yet to get into that parking bay I have to come in and do a 45-degree angle turn where I have a very small gap on either side of the track. As you swing in, you've got to go out with the first truck, and you've got to have the trailer not hit that one, then your back one cuts in, because as it goes around the corner you have the cutting off. To get into that parking bay is hard. To get out of the bay, you've got to drive over a concrete gutter.
Inquiry participants suggested a variety of requirements for rest areas that met the needs of heavy vehicle drivers including afternoon shade, distance from road noise and headlights at night, flat ground, adequate parking for all heavy vehicle sizes including high productivity vehicles, facilities to prepare a meal on the side of the road, toilets, showers, water, rubbish bins and that they be designated for the exclusive use of trucks.
ALRTA asserted that in rural and regional areas, 'the standard of facilities required at lower tier rest areas in rural and remote Australia is such that basic amenities such as toilets, shade, lighting and rubbish bins are typically completely absent'.
Ms Jan Cooper, chief executive officer of the LRTAWA, derided the lack of facilities for drivers on rural freight runs, stating that 'there is no way we are going to attract more women into the industry when there are not even basic facilities'. She continued:
… it's really hard to understand why we treat truck drivers the way we do. We have examples of depots and facilities at the end of a transport route where there is nowhere for drivers to shower or even go to the toilet. We have grain bins where there is nowhere to go. They have to camp there overnight in order to be there for the scheduled appointment time in the morning, but they have no facilities. It defies human understanding.
The LRTAWA submitted that the industry was not averse to a user pays system 'if it meant there were suitable and well-maintained facilities'.
Ms Michelle Harwood, executive director of the Tasmanian Transport Association, noted that progress had been made in that state on the acceptance of a rest area strategy, allocations of funding and consultations with truck drivers 'as a part of the normal process in design'.
Rest area deficiencies in specific locations
Some areas were singled out by stakeholders for the lack of rest or emergency stops for heavy vehicle drivers, such as the 41-kilometre Toowoomba Range crossing and the north–south expressways from Pheasants Nest to Wyong via Sydney. The committee was told that the road upgrade to the 40 kilometre stretch south of Boggabilla in NSW had resulted in 28 truck spaces being reduced to six.
Other identified problem areas included the Pacific Highway, the gap between Gin Gin and Brisbane on the Bruce Highway and the routes from Brisbane to Gympie, Coolgardie to Southern Cross in South Australia and Wubin to Meekatharra in Western Australia. The committee was also informed that while the Victorian Government had made vast improvements to rest stops along the Hume Highway, there were 'no public toilet facilities anywhere within the port of Melbourne'.
In response to issues raised by inquiry participants about facilities in Queensland, the TMR informed the committee that heavy vehicle rest areas were a focus of the $12.6 billion, 15-year works program for the Bruce Highway between Brisbane and Cairns which commenced in 2013. Regarding the Brisbane to Gympie section, in addition to two shared-use rest areas, a new roadside facility with 20 parking bays for trucks would be operational for heavy vehicle drivers in 2021. The TMR also reported that, while not designated rest areas, there were 22 pullover bays on the Toowoomba Bypass which could be used for driver or vehicle safety issues.
The TMR further informed the committee that there were 369 combined rest areas (light and heavy vehicles) on the 33,367 kilometre state-controlled road network across Queensland and 21 rest areas for the exclusive use of heavy vehicles. Of the 369 sites, 193 had facilities that included water and an enviro toilet and 221 had permanent shade.
The TMR also advised the committee that legislative amendments in late 2020 clarified that camping on state-controlled roads is for fatigue management purposes and that heavy vehicle rest areas are for the sole use of fatigue-regulated heavy vehicles. It was expected that improved signage and education would improve compliance.
Informal rest areas are unmanaged truck stops used by drivers, largely to make up for a shortfall in formal rest areas. The committee heard that the industry was losing informal parking sites due to town bypasses and perceived safety concerns and that informal stops used by drivers were being closed off with guard rails by road authorities rather than fixing issues such as bogging and potholes.
Mr Hannifey informed the committee of the genesis of his idea to use green reflectors on guideposts to alert drivers travelling on unfamiliar roads of upcoming places where they can pull over safely:
I was coming home over the Great Western Highway through the Blue Mountains and I was tired; I should not have been on the road. But there were no rest areas, there was nowhere to stop safely. … As I drove along, I'm thinking, 'Oh, Jesus, look, there's a big bit of dirt—I could've stopped there', but you can't see it; there is no marking for it. And I didn't know the road, so I didn't know whether the next rest area was five kilometres or 50 kilometres.
To Mr Hannifey, the solution was 'simple, cheap and effective'. Green reflectors have been installed on the Newell Highway in Queensland, funded by the federal Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiative. The TMR subsequently informed the committee that it 'fully supports the implementation of 3-2-1 Green Reflectors to assist drivers to locate informal heavy vehicle stopping places' and it is considering new locations that conform to its road management manual.
Municipal and commercial facilities
Service centres, road houses and local government facilities are also used by heavy vehicle drivers.
LRTAWA suggested that existing facilities in road houses could be subsidised to provide clean and suitable amenities. Ms Heather Jones, chief executive officer of the Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls, was one of several submitters who raised the decline in standards at road houses and the difficulty for drivers accessing healthy food. She recalled:
20 or 30 years ago, we'd pull into roadhouses and we would know the people there serving us … If you'd been on the road for hours or days or weeks, you'd sit down and you'd know Sally or Mary, and she'd ask you about your family and serve you some good, healthy steak and veggies. Now we have all of these service stations owned by multinationals where you can buy a pie, a pasty, a sausage roll or a stinky doughnut, which then contributes to fatigue.
Mr Frank Black observed that rest areas frequently do not exist in metropolitan areas and suggested that they be provided on the outskirts of cities. Ms Harwood of the Tasmanian Transport Association reported that there had been challenges in getting upgrades to existing rest areas in Tasmania due to residential development close to the highway and a view that facilities should be located out of town.
Driver Mr Gary Deane-Spread emphasised that truck driving was dirty work and that loading and unloading facilities needed to reflect that:
… a lot of the sites that we deliver to, not only myself but other companies and other drivers, you can spend four or five hours in the heat and dirt and dust unloading, unstrapping, untying and reloading, and get to the gatehouse and there's not even facilities to wash your hands, let alone have a clean up, use the toilet, have a shower.
National standards for rest areas
In July 2019 Austroads, a not-for-profit organisation funded by Australian and New Zealand transport agencies, published revised guidelines for road managers to assist them to plan and design heavy vehicle rest areas. The guidelines replaced an earlier version created by the National Transport Commission in 2005.
The new guidelines assist road managers to assess and prioritise heavy vehicle rest areas and specify the services that should be provided in different classes of rest area. Under the guidelines, major sites (class 1 and 2 rest areas) should be 70–100 kilometres apart; sites suitable for sleep (class 3 and 4 rest areas) should be 35–50 kilometres apart, and informal sites (class 5 rest areas) should be 15–25 kilometres apart.
Mr Hannifey called for the adoption of a national rest area strategy and a national road standard to enforce the number, frequency, size and facilities of rest areas on national highways and for new road projects.
Mr Geoff Allan, chief executive of Austroads, told the committee that 'most, if not all, jurisdictions generally have an intent to deliver on the guidelines'.
The provision and management of rest areas is a shared government responsibility, with state governments having primary responsibility for submitting proposals and delivering projects and the federal government contributing funding to rest areas on national corridors and major freight routes.
ALRTA expressed concern that the federal government was underspending on funding allocated to rest areas in the federal budget while Toll Group submitted that the government should upgrade rest stops along major freight routes as an 'immediate priority'.
The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) submitted that infrastructure projects that improve the productivity and safety of heavy vehicle operations in Australia are funded by the Australian Government through the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program (HVSPP). According to the ATA, rest areas on the National Land Transport Network, which constitutes 'Australia’s busiest and most important freight corridors', were not eligible for funding. ATA recommended that guidelines for future rounds of the HVSPP allow National Land Transport Network rest areas to be funded and should 'require all projects funded under the program to meet the requirements of the Austroads heavy vehicle rest area guidelines'.
Mr Philip Smith, first assistant secretary in the Infrastructure Investment Division of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications (the department) explained that rest areas and truck stops received federal funding under' a variety of different packages' and that there was 'no impediment under our funding mechanisms for those to be built in as roads are designed'.
Ms Gabby O'Neill, assistant secretary in the Office of Road Safety, added that projects under the Road Safety Program included the provision of truck rest stops, 'particularly in the very remote areas, and we're making sure that they're to the Austroads standards'. Ms O'Neill stated that there was more work to be done to identify the location of gaps in the road network.
Dr Louise Rawlings, assistant secretary in the Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics (BITRE), told the committee that as a 'first step', work was being done to map national rest stops online as part of the National Freight Data Hub. Data were being used to identify 'not only where trucks stop but also where trucks are not stopping … and where there are long distances between those stops'. Mr Smith added:
This data would obviously be invaluable from the planning and freight side of things. We then work with the states, work up proposals and put those proposals through to government for consideration through their normal budgetary processes.
Toll Group agreed that the Australian Government should use telematics data to 'prioritise underserved truck rest stops in Australia for targeted funding'.
Rural transport infrastructure
Effluent disposal facilities
The need for roadside facilities to dispose of effluent generated by livestock in transit was highlighted by rural transport associations and beef exporters.
Effluent control is important to avoid motorcycle hazards on roadways, contamination of waterways, transmission of infectious diseases and injury to animals in transit from slips and falls. Effluent control is also an issue for travel to urbanised areas and ports. ALRTA estimated that a trailer deck of 40 cattle can produce up to 1200 kilograms or litres of effluent, far in excess of standard 300 litre truck effluent tanks. The committee was also told that such tanks are 'not mandatory or even common in most parts of Australia' and that instead effluent is washed from trailers at truck wash bays, often at abattoirs.
Unlike countries such as New Zealand, the committee was told that Australia lacked a network of strategically placed facilities to effectively support livestock transportation. Furthermore, 'livestock processing facilities are not required to provide dumping areas, primary producers are reluctant to accept it onto their property and it may not be deposited in public places'. While the Australian Government had committed funds for a pilot roadside effluent disposal facility and to develop a code of practice, there had been limited success in constructing disposal facilities.
Mr Graeme Howell, secretary of the Livestock and Rural Transporters Association of Victoria, informed the committee that, depending on existing onsite infrastructure, a dump at saleyards might cost $50 000 while a roadside dump could range from $250 000 to several million dollars. In his view, 'there should be an effluent dump within 20, 30 or 40 kays on each major road coming into the city and on each side of major towns'.
ALRTA submitted that it was working with the National Transport Commission to compel livestock producers to adopt feeding practices that reduce the production of effluent during transportation. ALRTA recommended that the Australian Government identify key livestock freight routes and develop funding principles and regional plans with a view to establishing a network of managed sites in strategic locations.
Organic beef exporting company Obe Organic submitted that any new effluent stops should offer 'ablution facilities for drivers including female drivers'. The provision of toilets and showers at 'all sites we work at' was considered a basic requirement by the Livestock and Rural Transporters' Association of Victoria.
Loading and unloading ramps
The work health and safety implications of transport workers needing to use livestock loading and unloading infrastructure located at saleyards, farms, feedlots and other sites was raised by livestock associations.
Of specific concern was injuries and deaths caused by aging and inadequate infrastructure. A survey of 94 ALRTA members conducted in March 2021 found '87 per cent had experienced operator or staff injury in the past five years, 69 per cent had experienced near misses regularly or often and 80 per cent considered that reporting injuries or unsafe facilities would have a detrimental impact on work or repeat business'. Only four per cent of incidents were reported to work health and safety authorities.
Safe Work Australia reported that it did not have a specific category for injuries sustained while loading or unloading a vehicle in statistics compiled for the National Data Set for Compensation-based Statistics. However, its workers' compensation data showed that 312 claims had been made between 2009–10 and 2018–19 in the road transport industry for injuries from livestock.
ALRTA reported on the industry's involvement in the production of a national standard for ramps published by Standards Australia in late 2020. ALRTA executive director, Mr Mat Munro, said that the $139 cost of the standard and copyright licence requirements imposed by Standards Australia were inhibiting the ability of ALRTA to publicise the requirements in the standard, even among its own members. ALRTA argued that there was a need for accessible information for farmers and producers on the standard to improve the safety of the ramps.
Representatives from Safe Work Australia confirmed that persons conducting an agricultural business have the same duties in relation to managing and identifying work health and safety risks as any other employer. It also pointed out that transport companies could also have duties of care to ensure safe systems for workers in this instance.
Heavy vehicle amenities
A number of stakeholders shared the view that amenities for drivers in heavy vehicles were inadequate and detrimental to efforts to combat driver fatigue. Drivers suggested that fridges, microwaves, chemical toilets, showers and slide outs along the lines of those used in motor homes could be introduced into the Australian long distance fleet. The principal concerns of stakeholders, however, was the minimum size of driver sleeper berths and the need for air conditioning.
The Australian Design Rules (ADRs) are national vehicle standards for safety, anti-theft and emissions which are administered by the Australian Government under the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989 and Road Vehicle Standards Act 2018. All road vehicles are required to comply with the ADRs at the time of manufacture and supply to the Australian market.
The ADRs specify the minimum dimensions of sleeper berths as 1900 mm length x 530 mm width and 630 mm depth, with some allowance for the tapering or rounding of the sleeping space.
Drivers and the ATA argued that the minimum sleeper berth sizes in Australia were too small to ensure driver comfort and sleep quality and that heavy vehicles in countries such as the United States had superior living quarters. Mr Steven Corcoran recommended increasing the minimum sleeper berth dimensions in the ADRs to 1900 mm x 1000 mm x 1200 mm. Mr Mike Williams told the committee that increasing the sleeper berth in his 909 Kenworth truck from 50 inches to 72 inches would allow him to fit a chemical toilet behind the seat. The ATA proposed 'a regulatory incentive to encourage the installation of sleeper cabs up to 1.3 metres wide'.
Drivers were also concerned about the inclusion of the driver sleeper berths in the maximum allowable measurements of the dimensions of heavy vehicles. Mr Jerry Brown-Sarre argued for 'the measurement from front of bull to centre of turntable (fifth wheel) to be excluded from total length law'. By excluding the sleeper berth from the total allowable length dimensions, Mr Brown-Sarre and other drivers argued, owners will not need to trade off driver amenities for increased freight capacity.
Mr Mike Williams argued that vehicle weight laws should take driver amenities into consideration, and drew on examples from overseas:
I'm after a realistic weight on a steer axle which will allow for these bigger cabs. Now, there are trucks manufactured in Europe, the Scania Xer is an example of this, with a nine-tonne axle on them that have a 7.5-tonne weight on the steer, which, as we speak, is over the allowed limit. That particular truck, if you care to have a look at it, did appear at the Brisbane Truck Show several years ago, and everyone loved it. But no one can order it, because it can't meet the Australian standard.
Vehicle dimensions are also specified in the in-service mass, dimension and loading regulations overseen by the NHVR or the Western Australian or Northern Territory governments. Mr Sal Petroccitto, Chief Executive Officer of the NHVR, informed the committee that while regulations limit the overall dimensions of prime movers and combinations, there are 'no specific regulations that limit or restrict the size of a truck cabin or sleeper compartment'. Rather, it is a matter for the vehicle operators and manufacturers 'to optimise the use of space (dimension) and mass that is available under regulations to carry the necessary fuel, driver and vehicle features and provide enough space to connect a trailer'.
Mr Petroccitto acknowledged that proposals had arisen during the review of the HVNL to increase lengths for some vehicles to allow for larger sleeper cabins and that the NHVR supported this in principle for its 'potential benefits in terms of safety and driver wellbeing'. Ms Paula Stagg, assistant secretary in the Land Transport Policy Branch of the department, told the committee that the proposal was considered by the Infrastructure and Transport Ministers' Meeting in May 2021. If changes were allowed under the ADRs, it would be a marketing decision from truck manufacturers on whether demand warranted the supply of trucks with larger cabins to the market.
The ADRs require that sleeper berths have 'proper ventilation', but do not specify a requirement for air conditioning.
A number of drivers argued that all long-distance vehicles should be fitted with sleeper cab air conditioning that operates independently from the main engine. It was also pointed out that evaporative type coolers were ineffective in humid heat.
Mr Corcoran reported that the WA Commission for Occupational Safety and Health produced a code of practice on fatigue management for commercial vehicle drivers which specified air conditioning for operations north of the 26th parallel between 1 October and 31 March.