Fifteen years ago, an audit of rest areas could not find a single route which met national guidelines on spacing. This would be unsurprising to any truck driver, to say the least.
Thankfully, in 2008 this audit was not completely ignored. The then Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, established the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program. The HVSPP became the first Commonwealth program of its kind focused on improving road infrastructure safety for truck drivers.
The HVSPP sparked hundreds of projects, including rest areas, parking and decoupling bays, and better roads.
That decision taken in 2008 has directly contributed to a safer road network today.
However, while progress has been made, just about any truck driver will tell you that rest areas remain in short supply.
So why, in 2023, do we still have such large gaps in the quality and quantity of rest areas? Why wasn’t 15 years long enough to actually fix this problem?
While rest areas are the central reason for why the HVSPP exists, the focus on fixing rest areas has well and truly drifted over the years.
In more recent years, ATA analysis found that less than 10 per cent of hundreds of millions of dollars in HVSPP funding was going to rest areas or parking bays.
The bottom line is that the program that was designed to fix rest areas appears to have forgotten that rest areas exist.
Is there even a single national freight route in Australia which would now meet rest area guidelines?
Now Prime Minister Albanese has returned to fixing rest areas in his government’s first budget with an additional $80 million for rest areas over four years.
With this new funding specifically targeted at rest areas, the ATA estimates that Federal funding support under the HVSPP for rest areas will triple over the next four years. Not a bad effort.
Absolutely critical will be targeting the funding to where it is needed most. To the new Government’s credit, they will seek input from truck drivers and industry.
Now that better funding is in place, and input from industry is respected, we ultimately need a plan to ensure the next 15 years is not like the last 15. We need to actually fix this issue and deliver key national freight routes that meet national rest area guidelines.
Ultimately, we need mandatory rest area guidelines for governments and their transport departments.
The Australian Government should make delivering national roads which meet national rest area guidelines to be a requirement for funding.
If the states and territories want national cash for their road networks, they must ensure they meet the quantity and quality recommendations of the 2019 Austroads rest area guidelines on freight routes.
The Albanese government has taken a critical first step on rest areas, putting some much-needed cash back into the system.
Now we need to ensure the next 15 years lead to a better and safer future for trucking, and we actually fix our rest areas.
Making better rest areas a requirement of federal road spending would put this goal within reach.
No ifs, no buts, just do it.