B-DOUBLES and road trains are continually demonised by the mainstream press and television current affairs programs, well suck it up you purveyors of misinformation, the results of a recent nationwide in-depth survey are in showing linehaul operations, running predominantl B-double and road train combinations are the safest in Australia.
The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator coordinated a National Roadworthiness Baseline Survey (NRBS) of 7130 heavy vehicles across Australia.
The inspections took place from August to November in 2016 and since then an independent statistics organisation has been crunching the numbers and has produced some surprising results.
Throughout the survey, 364 transport inspectors inspected rigid trucks, semi-trailers, B-doubles, road trains, buses and special purpose vehicles at 168 inspection sites.
These inspections took place at roadside checkpoints, state inspection facilities and in transport operator depots.
Detractors of the road transport industry have used ABS statistics showing that the average truck age in Australia as being 14 years old, a figure referenced to show an ageing and dangerous fleet on Australian roads.
This new study shows that these figures are false, based on registrations rather than trucks actually using the country's highways.
Registrations cover many trucks parked on farms, stations and small communities under special registration protocols that do not require annual inspections and often rarely spend any time on main roads and highways.
The NHVR study took random samples from trucks actually using the highways and the survey has produced a far more grounded snapshot of the trucks on Australian roads.
The average age of on-road trucks of all types is now seen to be nine years, significantly under the ABS figures.
Rigid trucks fare the worst in the inspections with an average age of 9.9 years old. Semi-trailers used in a wide variety of purposes, short, medium and long haul, have an average age of 8.7 years.
And it is here the big shift in perspective comes about, with B-doubles having an average age of 5.2 years and road trains 5.4 years, an average age that gives the types of trucks used mostly on linehaul the youngest age, and from inspections and defect notices notices, the safest trucks on the road.
In a media statement, the NHVR said the NRBS data demonstrates that the in-service linehaul fleet is on average five years younger than the average age.
For the survey, main roads inspectors of the various jurisdictions were trained in inspection protocols to set a consistent standard over the period of the survey so that the data was solid.
All Australian states and territories took place in the study with the exception of Western Australia who, according to the NHVR, was not against the study but didn't get its ducks in a row in time, and is involved in ongoing analysis.
This first round of statistical analysis has given a baseline snapshot of the state of the national fleet upon which ongoing studies can use to make comparisons of improvements or otherwise over the years.
During the survey the 7130 vehicle combinations were inspected, made up of 11,066 vehicle units including hauling units and trailers.
- 3227 rigid trucks were inspected
- 1221 semitrailers
- 802 B-double sets
- 221 road trains
- 1015 buses and coaches
- 644 cranes and special purpose vehicles.
Of the 11,066 vehicle units inspected, only 147 were grounded. Major non-conformities are classified when a critical concern over the safety of a vehicle is found forcing the truck to be grounded.
"The Australian heavy vehicle fleet is well-maintained and generally operating in a safe condition," the regulator said.
This means 1.3% of vehicle units were grounded through the course of the study, including 82 hauling units and 64 trailers.
Looking at the breakdown, non-conformity was found the highest in rigid trucks and their accompanying trailers. Semi-trailers too fared badly in nonconformity, rigid trucks at 13%, semi-trailers at 14%.
Better results of 8% of B-doubles and 10% of road trains were found to be nonconforming.
Top of the class goes to buses and coaches with only 2% nonconformity.
Examples of major nonconformities include when a vehicle falls short of the brake performance required when tested on a roller brake tester.
Taking a global perspective, the 1.3% of grounded nonconformities in Australia compares to 21.5% in a similar inspection survey in the United States.
The National Roadworthiness Baseline Survey set out to create the most consistent, focused and efficient inspection approach ever done in this country.
The data enables the regulator to identify high-risk vehicle components, vehicle systems, vehicle types, operators and industry sectors.
The knowledge gained in the survey could lead to focused sector inspection targets where a particular type of truck or a particular vocation is targeted where maintenance issues and nonconformity have been identified.
The data released in June is the first result gained from more than two million pieces of data collected during the inspection.
"We wanted to understand the rate of major nonconformity. Where authorised officers found major nonconformities the majority were assessed as safe enough to continue their journey but required repair within a specified period of time," NHVR CEO Sal Petroccitto said.
"The rate of major nonconformities in the Australian fleet compared well to the UK which had a 35% major nonconformity rate and to the US for about one fifth the vehicles inspected are grounded."
A strange twist
The first results of the NRBS were released on Friday June 2. The next working day, the following Monday, the Heavy Vehicle Industry Australia (previously the Qld-based CVIAQ) sent out a release "HVIA puts brakes on NHVR's survey results".
HVIA appeared to whinge the brake testing methodology, adding confusion, another case of the industry shooting it's self in the rhetoric foot.