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Time for a good ‘brake’

Advocating a ‘fair go’ for the trucking industry can be an onerous and decidedly demoralising task at times, not least when heartbreaking tragedy is shown to have been inflicted by a truck operator’s callous indifference to the consequences of poor vehicle maintenance.

In particular, poor brake maintenance and similarly, apparent disregard for the undeniable benefits of anti-lock and stability control systems in multiple combination vehicles.

Take, for example, a recent statement from the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) highlighting the findings of a coroner’s investigation into the death of motorist Scott Bennett on Queensland’s Warrego Highway in January, 2012.

Mr Bennett and his wife were in their four-wheel-drive towing a caravan along the Warrego Highway when a Type 1 roadtrain approaching from the opposite direction braked hard to avoid vehicles stopped at an intersection. On a road wet from recent rain, the roadtrain skidded and jack-knifed, sending the prime mover into the opposite lane in front of Mr Bennett’s vehicle.

The resultant collision saw the four-wheel-drive hit the left-hand side of the prime mover. Mr Bennett died at the scene. His wife was severely injured.

In a finding which can only be described as a wicked indictment of the trucking company, the coroner found that the brakes on the roadtrain combination were in an unsatisfactory condition due to poor maintenance, and that the maintenance and service records of the company were “appalling”. Consequently, the combination of a slippery road surface, the lack of an anti-lock braking system (ABS) and the badly worn and imbalanced brakes caused the roadtrain to jack-knife.

Adding to the tragedy, the roadtrain was accredited under the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme (NHVAS), yet the driver had such a low level of literacy that it was found he would not have been able to read the manual or properly complete the vehicle service records.

For its part, the ATA is rightly continuing to urge truck operators ‘… to make sure they have effective maintenance programs, particularly for brakes, and to upgrade to ABS and ESC (electronic stability control) as soon as possible.’

However, in a recent and troubling twist to the whole issue of brake maintenance, the ATA is also reporting, ‘… that there are still brake actuators being supplied to the market that do not appear to meet any standards and that provide distinctly substandard performance.’

Yet as the association adds, ‘There is no standard as such for compliance, however replacement brake actuators must provide performance equivalent to the original, which is typically tested to various SAE standards.’

So, good or bad, the choice is squarely in the hands of truck operators. But for some, choice of any sort is gone for good.

Source: Leading independent industry journalist.

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