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TIME FOR OVERHAUL: Truckie sick of seeing mates die

FED UP: Paul O'Meara owned a trucking business in Warwick for 11 years.
FED UP: Paul O'Meara owned a trucking business in Warwick for 11 years. Alf Wilson

IT IS a nightmare no one wants to live, but for Warwick truckie Paul O'Meara, watching his mates die behind the wheel is a horror story stuck on repeat.

This week his best friend was killed in a two truck crash at Jackadgery near Grafton, in what was another horrific double fatality headline to splash across our news stands.

Having driven trucks himself for 30 years and owned a truck business for the past 11, the safety risks swarming the industry have finally convinced Mr O'Meara he's ready to quit the industry for good.

The death of his friend, who cannot be named as he is yet to be formally identified by the family, is just one in an awful series of truckie deaths.

"Unfortunately now there's a little four-year-old boy who's no longer got a father," he said.

"My mate's death has touched a lot of people, he was a very well-known and very well-liked man.

"This one is just a repeat of another very good mate I had who died about 12 years ago and it's just come back and brought all the nightmares back again as well."

Mr O'Meara moved from the Rose City just last month and is preparing to sell his trucking business.

A horror week on Australian roads has thrust road safety into the spotlight, at the same time the Australian Trucking Association is calling for changes to the investigation process for truck crashes.

The industry body is lobbying the government to enable the Australian Transport Safety Bureau to take over responsibility for investigating truck crashes.

ATA chief-of-staff Bill McKinley said the current process was to complete a coronial inquest, which often occurred years after the event only for final recommendations to be ignored by the government.

The ATSB currently investigate aviation, marine and rail crashes and work to tight time frames.

Mr McKinley said the body had proposed $4.3million over four years to prepare the ATSB and $2million funding increase for heavy vehicle safety initiatives each year starting July 1 this year.

"Crashes typically have multiple causes and the first cause of the crash is often the result of things that happened back up the chain," he said.

"We have one of the best safety investigation bodies in the world and they don't investigate truck crashes.

"Now we need specialist safety regulators who will work in parallel with police investigators to produce reports and recommen- dations that will focus solely on safety."

Mr McKinley said the change would mean more steadfast and timely recommendations.

"Everybody wants to reduce the number of accidents to zero and we need more information to be able to do that," he said.

Toll Group managing director Michael Byrne also wrote a letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week outlining six ways to reduce truck crashes, which claimed over 1,000 lives in the five years leading up to 2016.

These included incentivising modern fleets with life-saving technology and enhancing community understanding of driving safely around trucks.

But Mr O'Meara said it was too late, as research from NTI showed eight out of 10 fatal crashes involving trucks and another vehicle were caused by cars.

"I think it's a good idea but I don't think it's going to solve the problem," he said.

"What the majority of people don't understand they have a loaded shotgun in their hand (when they get in a car)," he said.

"They just have a minute where they lose concentration and somebody dies."

Ross Fraser of Frasers Livestock Transport in Warwick said changing the investigation process could reveal the cause of accidents faster. But road safety remained the responsibility of all road users.

"The trucking industry has got, in some cases, a million dollars tied up in a rig and an accident that's caused by a negligent car driver is worth about $1000.

"It doesn't matter how much you spend on new technology in trucks, if an unroadworthy car causes a truck-related incident, you won't avoid that.

"I'm not saying the trucking industry is completely blameless, we've got a major role to play and we're prepared to do that but the playing field has got to level."

Lights on the Hill vice president Gary Simpson said the perception of truck drivers needed to change.

"There needs to be more information on what caused the crash because people automatically think drugged up, tired truck driver," he said.

"The majority of truck drivers don't take drugs."

Holding a memorial drive for fallen truck drivers each year has highlighted the impact of driver deaths for Mr Simpson.

"If you go to the memorial service, you see the impact it has on any family. It's a very sad day," he said.

Topics:  crash investigation editors picks frasers livestock transport road safety truck driving truckie