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Safety and Compliance

NTARC: 10 Reports On

The National Truck Accident Research Centre (NTARC) has just released its 10th report into truck safety in Australia. Authored by Adam Gibson, Transport and Logistics Risk Engineer at NTI, The Major Accident Investigation 2021 Report shows a mix of progress and plateaus.

The report uses NTI’s extensive data as Australia’s largest insurer of trucks to provide insights into where, when and why trucks are involved in serious crashes. Over the 10 reports, there are a number of significant trends.

Fatigue

Looking back over NTARC’s 18 year history, there has been a significant positive trend around fatigue crashes, with the proportion of crashes caused by fatigue dropping from 27% in the early 2000s to their lowest level ever of 8% in 2020. 

The report also regularly examines the geographic distribution of fatigue crashes and Queensland is frequently the state with the highest risk of a fatigue crash, with a rate more than 50% higher than the national average; while Victoria has had the lowest risk in the most recent four reports. 

Driver error

Crashes attributed to driver error have three leading causes: inappropriate speed, idequate following distance and inattention. 

Over the 10 reports, the proportion of losses resulting from driver error has been steadily increasing. Although contrary to the overall trend, in recent years inappropriate speed crashes have been declining but have now plateaued. 

Inadequate following distance crashes were overwhelmingly (96.2%) at-fault nose-to-tail incidents. They were far more frequent in urban and peri-urban environments. Despite the vehicle at the rear being technically at fault, we know that other vehicles frequently cut into truck drivers’ safe stopping distances.

Of significant concern has been a sharp rise in the past 3 years of inattention/distraction crashes, increasing from under 7% in 2017 to over 15% of large losses in 2020.

Car and truck fatal crashes

Car and truck crashes remain a significant concern, with no significant shift in the data. Consistent with previous years, cars are at-fault in the significant majority of fatal car and truck crashes (78.3%). The proportion reverses for non-fatal crashes, with the car at-fault just over one-third (35.5%) of the time.

Since NTI started reporting this statistic in 2009, it has been consistently at or higher than four in every five fatal truck and car crashes where the car was the at-fault party. 

10 reports later: what have we learned?

Looking back over the last ten reports, Adam Gibson sees positive trends and causes for ongoing concern.

“While there are still challenges, we’re seeing fewer drivers doing the extreme number of hours that were once more common. A number of businesses have changed their operational practices so that high-speed overnight express freight is now much more safely run. 

“We see a lot of businesses that now have their trucks parked up as a matter of course from 10:00 pm to 4:00 am. If it’s not an operational necessity for your trucks to be on the road at that time, then it is best to be parked up during that highest risk period.”

“With that said, fatigue remains the largest killer of truck drivers in Australia, so we need to keep driving that fatigue crash number down.”

On the other side of the equation, inattention and distraction crashes continue to rise. Technology-based distraction can be a killer, and not only because of mobile phones. Increased cognitive load, from having more and more displays and controls to monitor – ironically, in some cases from electronic safety systems – can also distract drivers’ attention from the road.

“We’re finally learning what the aviation industry knows. We’re finally seeing some systems that take lots of these displays and boxes away, with multi-function displays that run all the truck’s hardware.”

Managing human factors is the key

Ultimately, Adam says the lesson he takes from the last 10 reports is that safety hinges on drivers, which requires a holistic response from regulators, educators and industry.

“That 80% number for car and truck fatal crashes remains one of our most important statistics. To get the message out that in the majority of these most serious crashes, the truck driver is not at fault. It’s not our trucks crashing into them,” Adam says.

“That speaks volumes to the work that needs to be done. Education for road ministers and police ministers around managing light vehicle behaviour. We need to challenge the assumptions of the general public, road safety professionals and road managers around how we address the problem.

“Transport often gets the short end of the stick when reporting crashes that were absolutely no fault of the transport industry.

“On the flip side, truck driver deaths across all the reports are predominantly single-vehicle crashes or truck-on-truck crashes. 

“There are issues that we’ve been tracking that are ours to own. Our challenge in 2021 is to pivot and intervene to solve those challenges.”

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