Opinion

Highways and the health of our trucks and truckies

Today I want to talk about something completely different: our roads and the damage they do to our health and our trucks.

Our roads are shocking. What a disgrace.

Once upon a time, well within my memory, our roads were directly maintained by state and federal governments. In Victoria, the Country Roads Board had workshops, trucks and equipment to maintain roads in their areas. Inspectors regularly patrolled roads ensuring potholes, damaged signs and damage was fixed immediately. They did a good job.

But privatisation took over. Shires don’t have any road repair depots. They don’t have any inspectors. And our country roads are falling apart. 

Now shires rely on complaints to highlight road problems. Then they check it out, put up a rough road sign, and advertise for tenders to fix the issue. Of course this takes time, during which hundreds or thousands of vehicles must dodge the issue or damage their vehicle.

Rough roads are ignored because no responsible person drives on most of the roads. And, if they do, they drive in modern cars that ride well, not in a truck that doesn’t.

Information from an Aussie national road test facility told me: “Eighty per cent of our country roads do not meet our Australian road standards for roughness. Twenty percent of the Hume Highway doesn’t meet our road roughness standards.”

I’ve watched our roads slowly become goat tracks. We know that rough roads hammer our trucks.   The tyres suffer, the suspension suffers, the entire truck is stressed and fatigues. And our drivers’ stress levels go through the roof, wearing them out too. My research uncovered a health issue caused by continuous vibration: Whole Body Vibration.

Constant vibration for hours on end damages our brains, our eyes, our backs and our stomachs. The worst vibration is the side-to-side vibration. Car drivers sit down low, with soft suspension, and virtually don’t feel the side-to-side vibration. Truck drivers sit high up, often directly above the steer wheels. Many sit higher above the road than the width of the truck. This height increases the side-to-side movements, hammering the driver’s body side-to-side, further damaging his or her health. Our rough roads are amplified by over inflated tyres, further increasing driver stress and health damage. It’s no wonder that truck drivers have the shortest life expectancy and suffer from numerous health issues.

How bad are our roads? International research classifies Aussie roads at between 35 and 42 in world standards. That means 35 to 42 countries have better roads. Our roads are far worse than many third world countries.

Of course, governments tell us that we are a big country with a small population and simply can’t afford good roads. On the surface, this makes sense, but in reality, most of us live near the coast, and only on half of that coast. Our road network is not substantially larger per population than many other countries that have far better roads. I believe that good roads simply don’t buy votes.

Let’s look at road funding. Again, governments don’t tell us the truth. I remember when the fuel tax was brought in. Politicians promised and promised that this tax would be used 100 per cent for roads. Malcolm Fraser was the first government to start stealing our road money. And then it got worse. In 2004 or 2005, John Howard got in trouble for under-spending the mandate of 3 per cent. Yep, he stole 97.4 per cent of our fuel tax, and then privatised our roads.

Now, our governments are telling us that they are overspending on roads. The fake accounting they are doing is simply riddled with lies. How can road spending change from 1.6 per cent to over 100 per cent? It simply can’t happen.

But that doesn’t stop them from hammering us to reduce accidents, with roadside checks, maximum driving times, etc, while ignoring their input to road safety completely.

Rough roads and bad road design kills people everyday. A four-lane divided highway is between three and five times safer, yet we only have one four lane highway connecting our major cities. America built divided highways back in 1958, because they knew that bad roads increase costs for every citizen, and every business.

How much do bad roads cost us? Rough roads reduce fuel economy by 6 to 8%. Rough roads double or triple truck wear and tear. And rough roads kill and maim our drivers.

Transport costs our wheat and grain producers 28% of the value. Fuel, food, machinery, clothes, building materials and everything else we use costs more. It affects everything we grow and manufacture. Bad roads reduce our quality of life and living standards, while causing more accidents, more deaths and more suffering.

Unfortunately, we do not complain enough. We’re too busy carting everything to everyone. We must make more noise, write more letters and force our unions and associations to embarrass our politicians and bureaucrats. Our governments are getting by with murder.

What else can we do? We can run the right tyre pressures.

One hundred psi is not right. Steer tyres are under-inflated, and all the others are 25 to 300 per cent over inflated. Over inflated tyres wear out faster, get more punctures and blow outs, and amplify every bump and roughness, hammering our drivers and trucks into an early grave. Over inflated tyres also hammer our roads, causing corrugations, potholes, rutting and roughness, making our roads even worse.

Let us make noise. Let’s force our unions and trucking associations to lobby our governments and ensure they are not blindsided by fake accounting and dangerous practices. 

If you need any information to push this issue, let me know. I will gladly help wherever I can.

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