Safety measures have proved effective in reducing serious truck crashes in Australia but statistics for some factors continue to cause concern, according to a recent report from National Transport Insurance group (NTI), a key Gallagher insurance partner. We look at some of the key findings and what they mean for transport risk management.

The National Truck Accident Research Centre (NTARC) 2022 report compares annual data going back to 2005 and reflects changes in the causes of incidents involving trucks in current data.

Overall the proportionate frequency of crashes is reducing, despite increases in freight movements and traffic volumes. Since 2003, there has been a 55% increase in trucks on the road and a 51% increase in freight volumes and against this growing freight transport activity there has been a reported decline in all heavy truck-involved road crash deaths over the almost 20 year period.

However, these statistics refer to fatalities in other vehicles impacted by freight transporter incidents, and truck occupant crash deaths have remained largely static at about 35 a year for the last decade. Drilling down into the detail underlying these figures reveals greater complexity in both positive and negative outcomes. Some of the factors involved in truck occupant death incidents include single vehicle incidents versus truck and car collisions, type of vehicle, location: urban or rural settings and time of day.

Heavy vehicle safety measures that have proved effective

Industry investment in improvements to safety functions including seatbelts, front under-run protection systems (FUPS) and anti-lock braking systems (ABS) technology, combined with advances such as in-cab monitoring have contributed to stabilisation and reduction in serious crash and fatality incidents.

Increasingly features like electronic stability controls, electronic braking systems and collision and lane-departure warning systems are now standard on most makes and models, and have the potential to drive further gains.

The introduction of driving hours reforms and standardised logbooks in most states and territories in 2008 had an immediate impact: figures for fatigue-related incidents dropped from an all-time high of 27.3% to 8.2% in the latest report.

The data shows that the biggest improvement over the past 20 years has been in the reduction in major incidents where fatigue and inappropriate speed for the prevailing conditions were found to be the dominant causes. Back in 2005 these were responsible for more than one in two serious truck crashes — a statistic that has declined by over 50%.

Fatigue is still responsible for more than a quarter of serious incidents in remote areas, and the largest proportion of crashes in all areas occur between midnight and 6am.

The introduction of chain of responsibility legislation from 2014 placed a legal obligation on all parties in the transport consignment chain to take all reasonable steps to ensure drivers do not commit a speeding offence and, indirectly, drive while fatigued.

Inappropriate speed doesn't refer to exceeding legal limits as much as to driving too fast for the conditions. Since most speed-related incidents result in vehicle rollovers it remains a leading cause of driver fatalities.

Interestingly a high proportion of inappropriate speeding incidents occur in 60‒80kph zones, with factors like following distance playing a key role. The uptake of electronic stability control which can be applied to advanced driver assistance systems may facilitate future improvements.

New problem areas contributing to heavy vehicle safety incidents

In sharp contrast to the long-term reduction in incidents caused by fatigue and inappropriate speed, the NTARC data exposes a dramatic increase in major accidents caused by human factors, most significantly distraction and inattention resulting in inappropriate positioning of the vehicle.

These underlying causes are now responsible for almost one in six accidents and may be at least partly attributable to mobile phone use. Devices linked to in-cab displays may also be a source of distraction.

Another factor is the vehicle type. Rigid trucks, which predominantly operate locally in urban and surrounding areas with more traffic and vehicles than long haul truck routes, also represent an increased number of insurance losses in terms of frequency rather than severity.

Tippers are another class of vehicle involved in losses, including rollovers, with articulated combinations representing over half of rolling while tipping incidents. This may be due to low barriers to entry for drivers and lack of regulation applying in the areas where they operate.

Safety takeaways for road freight transport operators

These NTARC findings indicate that risk management considerations for transport operators might include:

  • Technology used in the vehicle including safety functions, whether these demand interaction by the driver (sometimes the case with retrofitted devices)
  • Vehicle type and where it is driven: urban areas and surrounds, long haul routes, rural or remote settings
  • Mobile phone use protocols or monitoring
  • Ensuring chain of responsibility compliance at each journey stage
  • Business policy in respect to work hours and rest stops.

You can rely on our expertise to handle your transport claim

Every trucking incident requires the right experts to handle the resulting claim. Accessing experienced claims professionals with deep understanding of the transport industry can make the difference between resolution and a drawn out, more expensive outcome.

To find out more about what our transport industry broking specialists can do to enable your business to keep moving in the right direction, get in touch.


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