In News, June 202110 MinutesBy Gavin MyersJuly 7, 2021

The 2021 EROAD Fleet Day, cancelled last year, returned to the Claudlands Park convention centre in Hamilton during May.

With a line-up of 10 speakers, Fleet Day 2021 kicked off with a word by the chosen charity for 2021, the Brake Charity. New Zealand director Caroline Perry said the road-safety record in New Zealand was not great.

“Travel restrictions in 2020 didn’t make a huge difference. Our numbers are high compared with Australia and Europe. We have lots to do in New Zealand,” she said, stating that there had been 109 road deaths so far in 2021. Perry said that the social cost of crashes amounted to $4.9 billion. Every death cost $4.56 million, while serious and minor injuries cost $477,600 and $25,500.

She advised fleets to calculate the true costs of incidents. To do so, they should focus on reporting and recording and make drivers understand the importance of this, identify the extent and causes of incidents, and reward drivers for reporting even near-misses. Drivers should be interviewed following serious incidents, and fleets should review incident reports regularly.

“Brake can assist with support, policies and procedures, and employee assistance,” she said.

Looking after the team

Ruth Cook stated that 1500 people a day in transport and warehousing were not at work because of injury during 2020. “Real change in vehicle-related harm requires courageous action – those with the most influence need to lead. We can’t push down the risk to the people least able to influence their situation or business stability,” she said.

In helping companies prioritise their actions, Cook suggested following a hierarchy of controls and prioritising the most effective steps (the ones at the top of the scale).

“Your legal duty is first to consider if the risk can be eliminated. Consider, can the journey be avoided altogether? Can you separate vehicle movements from an area where pedestrians are? Can you install overhead walkways? If not, possibly consider other options going down the hierarchy, ending at admin controls because these are the least effective.”

Cook reminded the delegates that they weren’t only responsible for their workers but also for how the nature of the work influenced those workers. “Do you know when operators go onto someone’s site that there are safe systems in place to look after them? Do you know if the subcontracted drivers are safe? If you buy transport, does the contract make sure the vehicles are fit and the work is well planned, so people aren’t under undue pressure? It’s going to that extent that we’ll make change.”

Investments pay back

Iain Rossiter, NZTA’s compliance manager central North Island, took to the stage with senior sargent Lex Soepnel, CVST area manager, to continue talking about crashes and compliance.

“While the numbers have tailed off a bit, between 2013 and 2018, the road toll went up 40%, though total kilometres only rose by 10%,” said Rossiter. Heavy vehicle crashes had gone up with fleets’ numbers and accounted for 19-22% of the road toll. Rossiter pointed out that the truck driver was not necessarily at fault in these instances.

Soepnel added that in 2020, 2246 crashes involved heavy vehicles (with 56 deaths). Looking at a national average, 55% of heavy- vehicle drivers were at fault or partially at fault. “Prevention is key,” said Soepnel. “We’re working with other agencies and industry, and in 2020, we conducted 46,113 HMV stops and 71,458 inspections.”

The duo commented on the importance of using available technology (dashcams, electronic logbooks, etc.) to avoid collisions and how valuable this may be in crash investigation.

Simon Coyle, general manager of StraitNZ, also joined the stage and spoke about how emphasising systems changed his business after a health and safety prosecution in 2014. “It was a long journey, but we had to put a line in the sand. The hardest part was getting our people on board. We now have good procedures among the management team.”

Coyle said some of the key differences included screening employees, looking at processes, and pre-employment inductions. Drivers’ hours had been reduced to an average of 58, wages were lifted, and bonuses added. The company had been 26 months lost-time injury-free along linehaul and freight haul.

“You need to make the investments; the payback is 10-fold. Our culture has lifted unbelievably. We put it down to health and safety.”

Coyle commented on the issues he saw affecting the transport industry in the future. “There is a shortage of drivers – young drivers and skilled drivers – ready and fit for work. We need cadetships. Drug use is major among drivers; it’s disappointing, and drivers who get fired will move on to the next company.

“There needs to be an even playing field. Some continue to operate illegally while we have standards, this drives margins down. Finally, the government needs to show appreciation for the value of the work road freight does for this country – they need to wake up.”

Rethinking transport

Richard Cross from the Ministry of Transport talked about the current and future challenges faced by transport. “There has been a big shift in the way New Zealand thinks about transport. We don’t move things just for the sake of it; transport is a support to other activities and about providing access. We need to recognise there are different ways to achieve that.

“Transport is complex but interacts with other systems in positive and negative ways. It accounts for 20% of total greenhouse gas emissions in New Zealand – nearly a quarter from trucks, the fastest-growing source of emissions,” noted Cross.

He commented that the transport sector was often seen as low-hanging fruit when it came to reducing emissions, but in reality, increasing the uptake of EVs was not easy. “Only 3.3% of new registrations are EVs.”

Cross said that other aspects of transport could be focussed on. These included better city planning, designing the transport system to impact on people’s health positively, and refreshing the approach to road safety.

Cross acknowledged that transport was an economic enabler and the backbone of tourism and commerce. He said road transport accounted for 92.8% of all freight tonnage, with just over 144,000 trucks travelling 3.1 billion kilometres. “The cost and speed of moving goods have a direct impact on household expenditure. We saw the impact on supply chains from Covid.”

Cross said that it was difficult to develop solutions that solved all these problems, and the Transport Outcomes Framework attempted to capture the considerations. “Technology will play a big part in the future,” he said.

“The Green Freight Project, which kicked off two years ago, looks at technology for reducing road-freight emissions. It focusses on biofuels, electricity and green hydrogen and aims to objectively consider their strengths and weaknesses and how the government could support them over 30 years.

“All three technologies will have an important role to play; each has strengths and weaknesses,” acknowledged Cross.

“In the short term, the government must create the right conditions for the biofuels market and incentivise early adopters of electric and hydrogen power. Closer to 2050, there will need to be stricter measures such as disincentivising fossil fuels. Industry must have time to prepare.”

Cross also touched on the topic of autonomous vehicles – a polarising issue surrounded by cynicism, he said. “The key message is it’s still happening.” There was a possibility that autonomy in controlled conditions would emerge within New Zealand in the next five to 10 years. “It’s not a top priority at the ministry at the moment, but it’s good to start having the conversations.”