The Federal Government is considering introducing European truck safety standards to Australia, a move that will significantly lessen risk for bike riders on the road.
The Euro heavy vehicle standards include the crucially important side underrun protection on trucks and trailers to prevent riders going under the wheels of heavy vehicles.
They also feature much better mirror placement, including cameras and sensors to detect bikes and pedestrians when in the blind spots of trucks.
And in the current initiative, safety features such as lane departure warning, advanced emergency braking, stability control, and conspicuity markings are also included.
Bicycle Network has been pushing for the adoption of these features for years.
Working with the Victorian government on the Metro Tunnel Project, and other subsequent major projects, we were able to get the adoption of many of the standards that apply in Europe to construction heavy vehicles, a move being adopted around Australia. In those instances the advances were made via contractual stipulation rather than design rules.
Now there is a strong chance that better safety features will soon be on trucks through the rest of the transport sector.
Truck standards in Australian have historically been controlled by the Australian Design Rules (ADR), and have hardly budged as standards in Europe moved rapidly towards safer and environmentally acceptable designs.
And the National Party-controlled Federal transport portfolio has previously been resistant to the modernisation of Australia’s truck fleet, even stalling the roll-out of side underrun protection.
But change appears to be afoot: large numbers of European heavy vehicles now coming to Australia have to be modified before being allowed on Australian roads, and that adds cost for the industry.
In Europe, heavy vehicles are marginally wider than in allowed Australia. The industry is being offered a deal—you can have unmodified Euro trucks if you buy into the European safety standards.
A Euro heavy vehicle is typically 255cm wide compared to 250cm in Australia. And curtain wall trucks are allowed 260cm.
This slight increase in total width will be offset by requirements for safer protrusions such as mirrors and camera housings. And for the curtain wall trucks, strap latches will have to be included in the total width.
The government is considering a number of different new ADR options to clear the way for the modern heavy vehicles.
The first, and the one being supported by Bicycle Network and most other road safety stakeholders, is known as Option 1a.
It would permit the marginally wider heavy trucks in return for the compulsory adoption of a full suit of safety features.
And as these features are already either compulsory or optional fittings on most Euro trucks, they can be economically included in the vehicles destined for Australia.
These advantages only come with the new trucks that are built to the new, 5cm wider standard, whereas trucks built to the old ADR standard will not required to be similarly equipped.
So this is a first step, but a vital one.
Over the longer term this initiative should set off a gradual cascade of standards upgrades that will eventually result in the Australian freight and construction sector having safety standards equal to the beast in the world.
International harmonisation of truck standards must surely be a plus economically, and would certainly lead to more rapid, regular and significant upgrades to the Australian truck fleet, to the benefit of all road users.
You can read Bicycle Network's most recent submission regarding safer freight vehicles here.
This article was made possible by the support of Bicycle Network's members who enable us to make bike riding better in Australia.