Call to make rest stop construction mandatory

The federal government should create a national truck rest stop fund to boost jobs, freight efficiency and safety as Australia emerges from COVID-enforced lockdowns, says the National Road Transport Association (NatRoad).

NaRoad CEO Warren Clark said border delays that caused fatigue issues for heavy vehicle operators during the pandemic have underlined the importance of truck rest areas.

Speaking following lodgement of a submission to the Federal Joint Select Committee on Road Safety, Clark said the current approach to funding and building rest areas was fragmented and inconsistent.

“Western Australia and Queensland are pressing on with building jointly-funded rest areas while New South Wales is still conducting a study,” Clark said.

“We’re not talking about building bridges – rest areas are infrastructure projects that can be stood up in a relatively short time and can provide local jobs and proven safety outcomes.

“In 2018, the trucking industry responded to an Austroads research report seeking comment on guidelines for truck rest areas with a series of recommendations.

“They ranged from provision of truck rest areas every 32 kilometres and a ban on general and caravan parking in the truck section of any rest area, to providing more toilets and barring road agencies from using rest areas to store roadwork materials.

“Few, if any, of those have been adopted by any state or territory government.”

The guidelines that Austroads issued in January 2019 called for detailed heavy vehicle rest areas strategies for major highways and significant freight routes.

“There were also guidelines for distances between rest areas depending on the class of vehicles – it’s time to mandate these in the same way that driver rest breaks are compulsory,” Clark said.

“Let’s share the construction cost via a national fund that puts the onus on the states and territories to match and spend funding in a finite time or lose it.”

Clark said a seminal US study shows that more frequently placement of rest areas has a major, positive impact on fatigue-related accidents.

That study found that commercial vehicle driver at-fault crashes involving sleepiness or fatigue were more likely to occur on roadways where the nearest rest areas/truck stops were 30 kilometres a commercial vehicle crash site.

The incidence of crashes rose once the distance exceeded 32km, highlighting this distance as a hard upper limit for mapping rest locations.

Federal funding for rest areas is currently administered under the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program (HVSPP) is an Australian Government initiative to fund infrastructure projects that “improve the productivity and safety outcomes of heavy vehicle operations across Australia.”

The Australian Government has committed to providing $607 million over the 13 years from 2013-14 to 2024-25, with an ongoing commitment at least $65 million per year from 2025-26.

Since the program commenced in 2009 seven funding rounds have been undertaken.

The date for the opening of round eight has not yet been decided, according the infrastructure website.

Meanwhile, the Senate committee inquiry into the road transport industry has also recommended more be done to improve the condition and number of rest stops.

In its recently tabled report, the committee asked that the government adopt national guidelines for the design and placement of heavy vehicle rest areas for major highways and significant freight routes.

It also supports a public education campaign that demonstrates why heavy vehicle drivers must have access to designated rest areas.

“The New South Wales and federal governments continue to do the bare minimum when it comes to the respectful treatment of truck driver needs at work,” added Richard Olsen, the Transport Workers Union NSW/Queensland state secretary in a Big Rigs column earlier this year.

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