Steve Shearer, executive director of the South Australian Road Transport Association, isn’t pressing safety alarm bells after the latest incident on the South-Eastern Freeway.
A driver, 60, sustained minor injuries and was taken to the Royal Adelaide yesterday after he veered off the road into a pile of gravel due to a suspected brake failure.
Shearer said the reality is that out of the 660,000 trucks that come down the hill each year, there are maybe half a dozen drivers who have a “significant” problem.
“We do get a few more that go into the arrester beds but the numbers are very, very low,” Shearer said.
“It’s not like the road is a problem. Anecdotally, the evidence seems to be that it’s primarily a very small number of drivers who get it wrong coming down the hill; they’re in the wrong gear, and/or haven’t got the engine brake on.
“They end of up relying on their primary brake too much, and when that overheats then they’re in serious trouble.”
He added that it really melts down to either inexperience, carelessness, or the driver getting it wrong, most of the time, although he added that he wasn’t talking specifically about the truckie involved in yesterday’s incident.
Shearer said that anecdotally he knows that the bulk of the mishaps down the hill involve local Adelaide Hills drivers, not linehaul truckies.
“We’ve discussed with the government several times options for additional arrester beds, and there really don’t seem to be realistic options.
“The further down the road you go if you’re in trouble, you strike the issue of how do you get into an arrester bed on the left hand side because of the increased traffic density.
“We’ve also discussed the possibility of a pop-up net system which we know is used overseas to some extent to catch a runaway truck. It is doable but when we last discussed that with the state government probably 18 months ago, they dismissed the idea as not justifiable and not all that pratical.
“They actually said to us it would cause a lot of damage to the truck.”
Meanwhile, police are investigating whether brake failure or driver error is to blame for the latest mishap.
Drivers of heavy vehicles are required by law to use low gear as they descend into Adelaide. The law and a second gravel arrester bed were put in place after a series of serious accidents involving brake failures.
The Transport Workers’ Union said the near-miss near the Heysen Tunnels shows how coroner recommendations from six years ago are still being ignored.
A 2015 inquest into the deaths of James Venning and John Posnakidis, which occurred on separate occasions close to the beginning of the freeway, made recommendations about the South-Eastern Freeway.
The coroner recommended that truck drivers be given specific training on driving down the South Eastern Freeway, using arrester beds and that they should be supervised when using the freeway for the first time.
The coroner also made recommendations about truck maintenance and ensuring that trucks are regularly checked to make sure their brakes are working.
In 2014 two people were killed when the brakes failed on a Cleanaway garbage truck on the South Eastern Freeway. Last month Cleanaway was found guilty of charges related to workplace safety offences, with courts hearing that the driver of the truck had not been adequately trained and that the trucking company knew the truck’s brakes were faulty.
TWU SA/NT Branch Secretary Ian Smith slammed the SA Government for ignoring the coroner’s demands and called for a designated truck and bus lane on the freeway.
“It is a miracle that yesterday’s incident did not result in fatalities. There have been several deaths on this stretch of road over the years which have left families devastated,” he said.
“Six years on from the coroner’s forensic look at two deaths on the South Eastern Freeway from truck crashes, there is still a problem which is threatening lives. We demand that the SA Government today set aside funding to ensure training and information for drivers on using the South Eastern Freeway and its arrester beds, as the coroner has called for.
“We also want the Government to put in place a designated lane on the freeway for trucks and buses.”