Truckie: Bruce is the worst major highway I've ever driven
GUS Sacco's greatest fear is a driver falling asleep at the wheel and crashing head-on with his B-double fuel tanker.
The local truck driver travels the Bruce Highway between Mackay and Rockhampton almost every day to transport fuel and believes there is a lot of room for improvement in terms of the road condition and driver behaviour.
So much so, he says it's the worst stretch of major highway he has travelled in his 22 years driving trucks.
Having spent the last three of those 22 years driving back and forth between Mackay and Rocky, Gus has seen some improvements made to the highway, but says more needs to be done.
"I have to say that since I have started doing it, the condition of the road has improved. There are a few points where they have refurbished the road, resurfaced it or have added a couple of overtaking lanes," Gus said.
"There is one (a new overtaking lane) just south of Marlborough and a couple of others between Sarina and Marlborough but there is definitely not enough. We need more overtaking lanes."
Gus said the lack of overtaking lanes between Sarina and Marlborough, and the short length of them, is a major issue.
"Wherever there is a decent stretch of road, they should have overtaking lanes. At least every 20km I think," he said.
"The overtaking lanes, a lot of them are far too short. By the time you get up enough momentum to overtake a few people towing caravans, if you are a truck driver, you are speed limited to 100km/hr and we need that extra time to get the momentum up.
"If you are sitting behind someone who has been doing 80-85km/hr, by the time you get up to 100km/hr you have run out of lane because the overtaking lane has come to an end."
After raising concerns with the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads about the condition of the Bruce Highway south of Mackay, the state authority revealed a host of new updates planned for the section to Rockhampton.
"Safety is our number one priority, and we are always working to enhance our roads, including the Bruce Highway," a DTMR spokesperson said.
"The Bruce Highway Upgrade Program is an $8.5 billion 10-year program of works to improve safety, flood resilience and capacity along the highway.
"The program started in July 2013 and is expected to conclude by mid-2023, weather permitting."
The DTMR spokesperson said 25 projects have been completed or will be completed between Mackay and Rocky as part of packages of work jointly funded by the Australian and Queensland governments.
Safety works, including wide centre line treatments
2 projects under delivery ($1.6 million)
- Benaraby to St Lawrence - grids, guidance and delineation enhancement works (1 project)
- St Lawrence and Bowen - grids, guidance and delineation enhancement works (1 project)
2 committed projects ($7.35 million)
- Rockhampton to St Lawrence - upgrade 4 intersections (1 project)
- Rockhampton to St Lawrence - widening (1 project)
6 committed projects ($24.15 million)
- Rockhampton to St Lawrence - northbound new overtaking lanes (2 projects including 1 overtaking lane each)
- Rockhampton to St Lawrence - southbound new overtaking lanes (1 project including 1 overtaking lane)
- St Lawrence to Mackay - northbound new overtaking lanes (3 projects including 1 overtaking lane each)
Major capital projects - 3 projects
3 committed projects
- Rockhampton Northern Access Upgrade Stage 1 - $121 million ($96.8 million Australian Government funding, $24.2 million Queensland Government funding), construction scheduled to start in early 2018.
- Sarina Northern Access Upgrade - $14.36 million ($11.49 million Australian Government funding, $2.87 million Queensland Government funding), construction schedule to start in late 2018.
- Mackay Intersection Upgrade Stage 2 (Lagoon Street) - $588,500 ($470,800 Australian Government funding, $117,700 Queensland Government funding), construction scheduled to start in late 2017.
While the road upgrades are welcomed, Gus made it clear the road condition is not all to blame and said the actions of motorists plays a huge part in road safety.
"It does get quite busy, especially on school holidays you have a lot of families driving up and down and at this time of year, the dry season, you do get a lot of caravaners as well heading up north and south," Gus said.
"In situations like overtaking you really rely on caravaners or whoever you are overtaking to be observant and say 'okay, there is a truck trying to overtake me, I'll slow down for him a little bit' but the majority of them don't do that.
"They are really unaware of their surroundings, they look straight ahead and are not observing what is behind them and that is half the battle.
"There is certainly a decent amount of them that are really good and will let you pass them even on a straight stretch of road where there is no overtaking lane but there is nothing coming, they will slow down and let you pass. But a lot of them are in day dream land."
Gus said common courtesy on the road was lacking and was a major frustration for truck drivers working to a tight schedule.
"We are limited to how many hours we can work a day and if we get held up for whatever reason, whether it be loading or unloading, we might be tight for time getting back," he said.
"10 minutes could be difference between us having to spend seven hours sleeping in the truck or getting home and sleeping in our own bed. I won't go over my time limit because if I have an accident, I don't have a leg to stand on in the court.
"We really need cooperation more than anything and for people to be aware of their surroundings and what is behind them and have a bit of common courtesy.
"When there is an opportunity to pull to the side, let us pass. We are happy to sit behind you for a little while but as soon as there is an opportunity, make it easy for us."
Due to the actions of unaware and impatient drivers, Gus has had his fair share of close calls on the road. Thankfully, he has never come to grief but said the fear was always in the back of his mind.
"I have had several close calls with people overtaking me. I have had people overtake me on double lines before the crest of a hill, prior to a bend and you just think, 'how do you know what is ahead?'," he said.
"There has also been one or two occasions when I have gone out to overtake and the person I'm overtaking has decided to put their foot down and play games. I have had to back off and pull back behind. They seem to be unaware of the dangers they can cause.
"Apart from hitting wildlife I haven't been involved in an accident, I have been lucky. You don't really want to have an accident with 60-odd thousand litres of fuel sitting on your back.
"I'm never complacent, there's always a first time and my biggest fear is fatigue. Not me being fatigued but another truck or vehicle coming towards me that is fatigued and if they fall asleep 100m away and we have a head on. That is probably my biggest fear."
While Gus hasn't been involved in any major accidents, Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads data reveals in the last five years to April 30, 2017, there have been 445 reportable crashes on the Bruce Hwy between Gordon St, Mackay and Fitzroy St, Rockhampton. From January-April 2017, there was 21 accidents reported.
As a result of those crashes 28 people lost their lives and a further two have died since June 30 taking the total to 30. The crashes also resulted in 348 people being hospitalised, a further 225 being medically treated and another 71 suffering minor injuries.
Gus has come across many of those accidents himself.
"I have come across about a dozen. Some have been quite minor and others have been quite severe and you just think, 'you're lucky to be alive'," he said.
"Probably about 12 months ago around the St Lawrence area, I came across a car that had hit a cow and had then clipped another vehicle coming in the opposite direction.
"It was a cow and her calf and they were wandering on a bridge so there was no shoulder and no where for them to go. Both cars haven't seen them until it was too late as they were both dark in colour.
"No one died and no one was severely injured and how that didn't happen is a miracle. It was a bit of a mess. One car was pretty badly crumpled up and the other was on it's roof.
"It could have been a lot worse. There was potential for a fatality in that accident and it was just a miracle that they both survived."
Gus said at the end of the day, he just hoped to make it home to his wife and young son and needs motorists on the road to be aware of their surroundings.
"You just have to be smart and wise enough to soldier on and hope to god everyone is being safe on the road."