Truck crashes on the rise in mining states

While truck crashes are decreasing in NSW, a new report has found an alarming surge of heavy vehicle accidents in both Queensland and Western Australia.

The NTARC report attributes the rising accident rate on the increase in road transport necessitated by the booming mining industry, the ABC reports.

Queensland’s Bruce Highway is the worst culprit, struggling to keep up with the large numbers of heavy vehicles using the road.

Although extensive roadworks are underway, critics say there are not enough overtaking lanes or rest areas.

The report examines every heavy vehicle accident in Australia in 2011 and was researched by the National Truck Accident Research Centre (NTARC) – a body wholly funded by National Transport Insurance.

Director of research Owen Driscoll said the Bruce Highway is now one of the most dangerous roads in the country.

"If you're comparing it to the other major highways in Australia it runs a very poor last," he said.

Another report, recently published by the Australian Automobile Association, found that 17 per cent of all national road deaths occurred on the Bruce Highway.

The highway only services around 20 per cent of the traffic that travels on major highways like the Pacific or Hume, Driscoll said.

But the Bruce has the greatest proportion of major truck accidents in the country.

Locals blame the poor state of the highway for the jump in accidents.

"It's been neglected for a very long time and it's not an all-weather highway," Liz Schmidt, secretary of the Livestock and Rural Transport Association said.

"I would think in the most recent two wet seasons, we probably lost six or eight weeks with the trucks sitting on the side of the road. Five trucks, five days at a time, or three or four days at a time. And then there'll be a huge event and there'll be a bridge washed out," she said.

The NTARC report goes beyond pinning the accidents to poor road conditions and names driver fatigue as another factor.

Driscoll believes many drivers are fatigued when they start a shift not just at the end of one.

"Seventy per cent of incidents are happening on outbound journeys and, in cases where they're on an outbound journey, within the first 250 kilometres," he said.

The research incorporated the analysis of driver’s log books in order to assess if ‘over-work’ affected fatigue and crashes.

Driscoll soon discovered factors outside of work were a major contributing issue.

Drivers clocking on after a weekend break were often just as tired as those coming of a week on the road.

"They haven't worked since Friday or Friday night, but they're tired," he said. "How do you identify that?"

The research has prompted the National Transport Insurance to educate both businesses and fleets about the importance of driver fitness checks and responsible rostering.

"We can sit in an office and if we are not feeling all that great on a Monday, because we have had a fairly busy weekend, we can still go to work," Driscoll said.

"These guys have got to manage even their time off so when they're back in their truck on Sunday night or the early hours of Monday they're fit and ready to go."

One point of concern for the Road Accident Action Group (RAAG) is the lack of adequate rest areas along the stretch of the Bruce.

RAAG is a community organisation which aims to improve the safety of the highway.

"There are no heavy vehicle rest areas in possibly 120 kilometres of here and there's only one new one that's been opened between Mackay and Rockhampton," Graeme Ransley, road safety coordinator for RAAG said.

"So, that's 320 kilometres with only one heavy vehicle rest area and that … it's recognised in guidelines that there should be a heavy vehicle rest area every 80 kilometres," he said.

The research shows that major mining states Queensland and Western Australia have experienced an increase of heavy vehicle accidents.

"These are the states that are expanding through mining," Driscoll said.

"So we're getting more traffic going to new locations on the worst part of the network. The other aspect of that too is that heavy vehicle drivers, many of them, haven't been into those particular locations before.

"It's off their normal route. So effectively, as you follow the expansion of the mining industry throughout Queensland and Western Australia, we're finding there are more incidents."

Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said the Bruce Highway had suffered from underinvestment.

He said $3.3 billion has been invested into the road since Labor came into office, with 90 kilometres of duplications currently under construction.

Albanese added that in the previous budget there was almost $200 million allocated for 50 new overtaking lanes, tackling 122 dangerous black spots, and 24 new rest areas.

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