Features, Mental, Truck driver, Truckie Profiles, Truckies’ health and wellbeing

Safety crusader commits to long haul in new TIV K200


Almost 25 years and millions of kilometres later, Australia’s most famous truckie Rod Hannifey still remembers the pivotal 1999 day like it was yesterday.

He’d just had a good night’s rest at Narrabri, NSW, and only been on the road for 15 minutes, barely up to highway speed, when a car went around him with two children in the back, seemingly oblivious to the Lindsay’s B-double looming from the other direction.

“We both put a wheel into the dirt for the car to go in between us and I could see two little kids sitting in the back of that car,” Hannifey, now 66, recalled.

“And I thought, ‘Jesus Christ’, and actually said to the Lindsay’s bloke, Christ Almighty, some people are stupid, aren’t they? And the bloke in car behind me with an UHF heard me and said he’d go and get the rego.

“He called me back with the rego and I rang the Moree Police and when I got to Moree they had the car pulled up on the side of the road, and I hope that they said to them, ‘Be a bit more careful, take a bit more time’.”

About five hours later, a fully-loaded Hannifey gets yet another scare as he’s coming down onto a bridge on the south side of Kilkivan.

It’s a narrow crossing too and there’s a F250 Ford coming so he flashed the lights once to say to the motorist, ‘Lift your foot off the accelerator a bit and let me across the bridge’.

“No, he came straight on to the bridge, and I missed him and the bridge by about 2cm. I actually pulled up in a little rest area in Kilkivan and thought, ‘How do I change this?’.”

With that one burning question driving him, Hannifey was off and running on an unprecedented road safety crusade that still continues today, all without any financial reward for the father-of-seven who still juggles a full-time driving job for Rod Pilon Transport around commitments at home.

The only element that has changed in that time is the truck in which Hannifey now drives to spread the key safety messages; better roads and rest areas for everybody, better education of motorists, and better industry awareness from the public.

It’s the third iteration of the celebrated Truckright Industry Vehicle (TIV) since Ken Wilkie helped Hannifey kick off the concept in 2008, before Rod Pilon came on board to support the cause from 2011.

Built in May 2021 as one of Kenworth’s 50th anniversary trucks, the latest Rod Pilon Transport-owned K200, one of the badge’s first Cummins-powered Euro 6s in Australia, made its first public appearance in February 2022.

“It still has the onboard scales but sitting behind that is a program called INSCOM and that reads the impact of the road into the truck,” Hannifey explains.

“Being a big cab there’s a longer wheelbase than your average K200 and that makes them ride that little bit better.”

The Air CTI (central tyre inflation) system has been extended to the steer this time – Hannifey’s last K200 only had it on the drive – to give Hannifey more of a footprint on the road, when light, or even empty.

“They’ve been a supporter since the start, the same as Tramanco and Icepack, and looking at the way we’re going with managing fatigue, that’s where Icepack are involved. Inland Trucks in Dubbo gave me some lights and a couple of things. Kenworth themselves contributed some of the things to the truck.

“So, it’s a joint effort from a lot of people who see value in promoting the industry and to put something out there that shows a different face to how we’re normally portrayed. I owe a big thank you to all the sponsors.”

The Rod Pilon Transport 50th anniversary trailers will soon be replaced by a new set of curtains with the latest TIV safety messages.

Pilons has ordered a new set of similar TIV trailers too – the first two sets are still working hard on other trucks in the fleet – that will carry the same educational and awareness imagery that Hannifey’s TIV is so well known for, including the Truckies’ Top 10 Tips on the rear.

The new trailers and prime mover will also help give Hannifey a platform from which he can spread the message that the industry is not recognised enough for the lives that it saves on the roads.

“We are certainly castigated and hung out to dry for the people that we kill, and the fact that you’re guilty two seconds after the accident before any investigation is done,” he says. “And it’s put in the media as ‘Truck kills so many people’. Well, that implies guilt by default. But we are never recognised for the fact that we do drive expecting people to do stupid shit, and we try and anticipate it. I reckon that we save dozens of lives a day by being proactive, by looking ahead, by being defensive, by expecting someone to do something stupid.”

It’s a well-known fact amongst industry that 80 per cent of fatalities between cars and trucks are the fault of the motorist, but Hannifey asks, ‘What have we done to change that?’

“The NHVR has done a little bit of late, I’ve certainly tried but it’s bloody hard doing it on your own, believe you me.

“Why aren’t those top 10 tips [Truckies’ Top 10 Tips] part of the licensing process? A 17-year-old is 10-foot tall and bulletproof and they don’t know any different until they decide to pull straight out in front of a fully-loaded B-double and think, ‘Well, this will stop because I pulled out in front of it’.”

Until the new trailers are ready, Hannifey is proud to be towing a special set to commemorate Rod Pilon Transport’s 50th year in business in 2022.

“It shows the level of support that Pilons give me, but it also shows the support that they’re prepared to put back into the industry.

“I simply can’t do it without the support of sponsors, and I couldn’t do it without the support of Pilons. It’s a level of support that very few other companies would give a driver, let alone return to the industry.”

There are also those eye-catching lights of course, purposely laid out in rows of seven in honour of his seven children and a thank you to his wife for having them and looking after them when he wasn’t always there to help.

“We know that’s one of the biggest pressures of the industry, and if I can get to 7 million kilometres [he’s just ticked over the 6 million-mark behind the wheel] I suppose it’s a million for each [of my children].”

There has been plenty of wins along the way for Hannifey. He’s won Driver of the Year accolades from the Australian Trucking Association and NatRoad, and arguably done more to improve the caravanners’ understanding of how to share the roads more safely with truckies than anyone else in the road transport industry.

Hannifey has committed to at least another four years behind the wheel of the new K200.

He’s won several safety awards, fronted dozens of video campaigns, and is also proud of the in-roads he’s made with his ever-expanding network of green reflectors, which count down the distance to informal parking bays along the highways.

Every month he fields a call from a driver telling him that the simple but effective idea has saved their life, which only adds to the frustration over the resistance he still strikes from some local and state bodies in adopting the concept.

Even so, Hannifey is arguably the most well-known, and influential truckie in the industry today with a profile that stretches from the remotest roadhouses to the highest echelons of power in Canberra. There wouldn’t be a boss in any of the state or territory transport agencies who hadn’t fielded a call from him about the woeful state of their roads, or a rest area that needs fixing.

In the week that he speaks to Big Rigs for this cover story, the tireless Hannifey has already spoken to the HVNL steering committee, the NHVR about the future of the industry and helmed a board meeting of the National Road Freighters Association in his role as president.

He’s also hosted his weekly spot on a national radio show, and done more media interviews about his new role as a counsellor for The Open Road, Open Up initiative which uses the UHF CB Channel 24 as a free support platform.

“I get really frustrated that I can’t do more, that I can’t fix the rest area problem overnight and we can’t have perfect roads everywhere around Australia,” says Hannifey, who is also a member of the first industry-led rest area steering committee. 

“Our roads aren’t as safe as they could be. I came home from Townsville two weeks ago and I was only in a B-double at the time on a section of that Gregory Development Road and a truck coming the other way was an inch too far my way and I moved over and I scared myself simply because I moved one inch to the left.

“When I got further down the road a bloke said to me there’s been quite a few dog trailers go over there because once you move over, it just grabs the trailer and pulls you off the road because there’s no shoulder. Our people die because the roads are not up to a standard. We don’t have a national road standard.”

Faced with so much red tape and obfuscation from can-kicking bureaucrats, most would just wave the white flag, pivot into another industry, or quietly fade into retirement.

But not Hannifey. He’s already committed to another four years navigating those all-too hazardous highways with the new trailers in tow behind his beloved TIV.

So, what drives him to keep going in the face of so many knockbacks and roadblocks, when he’s already done so much?

“Yes, the family suffers, it does. Yes, it puts you in a position at times where you think, is it really worth it? 

“But when I started this, there was one basis, and that basis was, if I get one bit of road fixed, if I get one rest area built or improved, if I prevent one crash, or one fatality, then everything after that’s a bonus, and that’s the system I worked on since then.

“Sometimes people are critical and give you a hard time because you’ve got a nice truck or because you talk on the radio, and I understand their frustration and cynicism, I really do. 

“But you either try and act positive and do something positive for change, or you sit there and whinge, and I’m afraid whinging doesn’t fix much.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend