Truck crashes increasing in mining states: report

While crashes involving trucks are decreasing in NSW, a new report has found an alarming surge in Queensland and Western Australia - most likely attributable to the mining boom.

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

Critics say in spite of massive roadworks, there are not enough overtaking lanes or rest areas.

In addition, as the past week has shown, it cannot cope with the kind of wet weather frequently experienced in Queensland.

Owen Driscoll, the director of research at the National Truck Accident Research Centre (NTARC) - a body wholly funded by National Transport Insurance - is the author of a new report examining every heavy vehicle accident in Australia in 2011.

His research nominates the Bruce Highway as the most dangerous road 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, published recently by the Australian Automobile Association, found that the Bruce alone accounted for 17 per cent of the deaths on the entire national road network.

Mr Driscoll says that despite the shocking level of fatalities, the Bruce typically services only around 20 per cent of the traffic that runs on major highways such as the Pacific or Hume.

Heavy vehicles Part of the reason for the high fatality rate is that the Bruce has the greatest proportion of major truck accidents in the country.

The NTARC report pins blame for the rising accident rate on the increase in road transport necessitated by the booming mining industry.

The research also shows a similar high risk of accidents across Queensland and in resource-rich Western Australia.

Not only is the Bruce Highway unsafe, it is a curse for those trying to make a living along it.

In regional Queensland almost everything comes on a truck.

Liz Schmidt, who has run Schmidt Livestock Transport for 34 years and is secretary of the Livestock and Rural Transport Association, is one local scathing in her assessment of the state of the road.

"It's been neglected for a very long time and it's not an all-weather highway," she 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." Driver fatigue The new NTARC report implicates other causes for the high rate of truck accidents on the Bruce beyond the poor state of the road.

A popular conception is that heavy vehicle crashes occur when truck drivers are pushing the limits of fatigue, especially at the end of long days.

But Mr Driscoll believes many drivers are fatigued when they start.

"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.

Mr Driscoll's research initially involved looking at driver logbooks to assess how over-work affected fatigue and crashes, but he soon realised factors outside of work were a major issue.

Drivers coming back from weekend breaks were often just as fatigued as those coming off 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?" National Transport Insurance has now started educating the businesses and fleets it insures about the benefits of regular fitness checks in addition to 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," Mr 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." Adequate rest areas Graeme Ransley is the road safety coordinator for the Road Accident Action Group (RAAG), a community organisation concerned at how dangerous the Bruce Highway is.

They are even putting up their own signs beside the road.

One of the biggest concerns for RAAG is the lack of adequate rest areas.

"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," Mr Ransley 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." Another major concern is that while heavy vehicle accidents are declining in state's with the most traffic - such as NSW - they are increasing in the mining boom state's like Queensland and Western Australia.

"These are the states that are expanding through mining," Owen 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's more incidents." Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said the Bruce Highway had suffered from underinvestment.

"That's why we've put $3.3 billion into the Bruce since we came into office," Mr Albanese said.

"Right today there's three-and-a-half-thousand people at work both direct and indirect on the Bruce Highway, 90 kilometres of duplication are under construction.

Right now there are ten major projects up and down the highway." He also said 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.

Listen to the full report on Radio National's Background Briefing on Sunday morning.

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