A current survey centred around Chain of Responsibility is calling on truck drivers and the broader industry to share their views, to help drive change in heavy vehicle crash investigations.
It’s something we see reported time and time again. Far too often, when a heavy vehicle crash results in a fatality, the blame is focused on the driver. News reports seldom reflect on the underlying causes of the crash.
Now, Ivan Cikara has launched the Heavy Vehicle Transport Industry Chain of Responsibility Survey. Its purpose is to identify whether or not the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) and Compliance & Enforcement (C&E) legislation are having a positive impact on transport organisations and driving behaviours.
Since going live, the survey has had hundreds of responses, and Cikara is hoping for many hundreds more.
“We are reaching out to all of the industry – the drivers, managers, CEOs, schedulers, regulators, anyone who works in the industry. The more people that participate in the survey, the better, as it gives a far broader picture on individual perceptions and how opinions are based,” he says.
Cikara has extensive experience in heavy vehicles, coupled with a strong background in safety investigation, largely centred around workplace, road and rail fatalities.
His career began in the WA Police Force, where he specialised in road safety and investigating fatalities.
Passionate about heavy vehicle safety, he transitioned into heavy vehicle research and held various workplace safety roles across a number of transport and logistics companies.
Along with holding formal qualifications in investigations, Cikara is currently involved in PhD studies centred around safety systems and investigations of fatal crashes involving heavy vehicles.
“The way investigations are done in heavy vehicle transport are very different to what is done in aviation, maritime and rail. The root causes are not really being investigated – rather the blame is focused towards the driver,” explains Cikara.
The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has long advocated for the provision of independent, no blame safety investigations for road crashes involving heavy vehicles; and has called on the Australian Government to extend the role of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) to include serious truck crashes where there are safety lessons to be learned.
However, Cikara is advocating for an independent national Heavy Vehicle Transport Investigation agency to be set up with specialised investigators who have heavy vehicle transport industry knowledge and experiences, know how the industry operates, know heavy vehicles and know how to conduct investigations.
“Drivers are being killed on our roads, year on year. And WorkSafe are unlikely to investigate heavy vehicle fatalities, if at all, with the exception of Victoria, which has started making some changes in that regard. The Standing Committee on Public Administration Inquiry into WorkSafe (Western Australia) were told by Worksafe that if it doesn’t happen inside the company’s gates, WorkSafe are unlikely to investigate it.
“If the aviation, rail or maritime industries experienced 200 deaths a year, as the heavy vehicle industry is experiencing, I have no doubt that Government would be calling for a royal commission to identify why; and immediate changes would be made,” says Cikara.
“My studies are all about identifying the background issues, underlying causes, and contributing factors such as governmental decisions like failing to provide appropriate sleeping bays for drivers to rest or appropriate driver facilities, testing regimes, client contracts, unrealistic schedules, etc, rather than just putting it all on the driver. People are quick to blame the driver, but let’s look at who put the driver in the seat in the first place and what was going on in the background. Even the coroner is not being provided the full, complete picture for them to base their findings simply because investigation reports they receive are not completed to that level of detail. Investigators, unless they have specific industry knowledge would miss these important underlying factors, and wouldn’t know what to look for, simply because they don’t have that specialised knowledge.”
Cikara points to a tragic incident a few years ago, where an off-duty police officer was killed on their way to work after the motorcycle they were riding was hit by a truck. “That truck was serviced by unqualified mechanics, the vehicle was poorly maintained, had faulty or no brakes, it was overloaded by as much as 50 per cent and the driver wasn’t properly trained, but nothing was put on the company, the blame was all put on the driver.”
Though we often hear these types of stories, it’s not always the case. “An incident in March 2014 resulted in a company director being imprisoned for a non-parole period of 10 years, after one of his drivers was killed in a truck crash. The director was aware that the truck’s brakes were faulty. Not to injure anyone else, the truck driver deliberately lined his truck up with a pole and basically sacrificed his own life,” says Cikara.
As part of his research, Cikara has also interviewed investigators who have worked within the heavy vehicle crash environment. What has come to light, is that the responses from participants across various parts of the industry are, for the most part, aligning.
“People want accountability and transparency. For someone who has lost a loved one, they often want closure and want someone held accountable. Through this survey, there are plenty of areas of debate I’d like to see open up. I’d like to see it bring about discussion within the industry,” says Cikara.
“There is still a focus on prosecution. With rail, aviation and maritime, there is specific legislation and standards that state how an investigation needs to be undertaken and what needs to be looked for. Rather than leaving it to police who may not have the skills and knowledge of the transport industry – not many know everything about load restraint, configurations, mass, dimensions, scheduling, fatigue management, etc, because they have so much to take in from other areas of policing and don’t get the opportunity to specialise in heavy vehicles. The background info about what led to the crash is often missed.
“While things might be changing, there still needs to be a specialised skillset for those who investigate heavy vehicle crashes, much like there is in rail, aviation and maritime. People like Senator Glenn Sterle, Shadow Minister for Road Safety, are doing excellent work with respect to safety in the industry. He has been such a great advocate for safety improvement and change in the heavy vehicle industry and I have no doubt his voice will be heard.”
For those wishing to complete this short survey, please click here.