Toll MD submits truck safety plan to PM

Toll Group Managing Director, Michael Byrne.

Toll Group Managing Director, Michael Byrne.

Michael Byrne, Managing Director of Australian transport and logistics company Toll Group, has submitted a six-point national truck safety plan to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and all road and road safety ministers across Australia.

“Australia has a dire road safety problem,” Byrne wrote in a letter to Turnbull. “Our approach to heavy vehicles in this country is core to tackling this issue. It’s time for a genuinely national approach to heavy vehicle regulation.”

He noted that, having heard from government and academic experts on improving safety, he wanted to give his own suggestions, as “the leader of Australia’s largest transport and logistics company,” former leader of “the second largest transport company,” Linfox, and a second-generation industry veteran who has worked in the industry since he was 13 years old.

In his letter, Byrne called for Turnbull to address six critical areas.

First, he requested a national rule book, which would provide a common definition for ‘heavy vehicle’, and consistent approaches across states for driver fatigue, speed limits, heavy-vehicle regulation and licensing.

“The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator was supposed to deliver one rule book,” he said. “It hasn’t. Western Australia and the Northern Territory have refused to sign up to the national law. And so today, Australian road freight operators are subject to multiple and overlapping rules at the local council, state and national level.”

Second, Bryne stated the need for the introduction of an operator licensing system to ensure safety and competence, to bring the industry in line with others such as maritime, rail and aviation. “In road transport, virtually anyone with a truck, a driver and an ABN (Australian Business Number) can be a road freight operator,” he said. “Most comparable countries have an operator licensing system for road transport.”

Third, he wrote, road safety won’t be achieved by industry alone, the community, government, enforcement and road safety bodies must also do their parts. “We know that in 93 per cent of fatalities involving a truck, the other party was at fault,” he said. “Yet national and safe road safety strategies are silent on how light vehicle drivers can ‘share the road’ safely with trucks.”

Fourth, he called for government incentive to encourage safe behaviour. “Governments can incentivise and reward safe behaviours from heavy-vehicle operators,” he wrote. “Discounted registration and stamp duty fees could be offered to operators with sound safety records.”

Fifth, Byrne advised the Government to mandate telematics for all new heavy vehicles. “Mandatory telematics on every vehicle will identify operators that systematically and deliberately speed, overload vehicles and push fatigue limits,” he said.

Bryne’s sixth proposal was for the Government to ensure operators such Toll Group are actively engaged in debate and policy development regarding road safety. “Any discussion on heavy-vehicle regulation must draw on private sector expertise to truly understand how we can overcome the obstacles that are holding us back from creating safer roads for our community,” he wrote.

A spokesperson for Barnaby Joyce, the recently appointed Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, told the Sydney Morning Herald that several of Byrne’s points had merit and would be considered.

“Even though there is no general consensus in the industry on some of the proposed initiatives, we will continue to work with industry and stakeholders to improve heavy-vehicle safety,” the spokesperson said.

Toll Group’s call for a national approach to road safety follows the Australian Truck Association’s (ATA) announcement on 12 January of its partnership with the National Road Safety Partnership Program, which aims to spread knowledge and information across all industries about managing risk and reducing the road toll.

The ATA also called for the Federal Government to allocate $12 million in funding to road safety, establish a National Road Safety Commission, and give responsibility for investigating truck accidents to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

In late 2017, Toll Group announced its own plans to position safety culture at the centre of its operations, with Byrne saying at the time that safety “is common to all of us and a non-negotiable.”