Some initial observations about the Burnley Tunnel crash:
Firstly I am of the understanding that as a result of a risk assessment by world leading safety experts, any hazardous goods truck cannot travel through the tunnel and the speed limit was set to 80 km/hr with speed cameras used to enforce the limit. The speed limit was set so as to reduce the crash risk for the number of vehicles travelling through the tunnel. I believe compliance in regards to the 80 km/hr speed limit is very high for cars and trucks.
Nevertheless regardless of what speed limit for a moving vehicle is set, the risk of a crash occurring will never be eliminated. It will happen and now has happened. Someone has made an error. We will never eliminate driver error. We can only hope to reduce its occurrence rate. What is important is that emergency procedures and services in such situations work and I believe they have which is a credit to the planners, designers and emergency services people.
One of the issues that concerns me that I can see from the reports coming in is that trucks are involved. Depending on the condition of the truck’s brakes it can often take a truck a lot longer to react, manoeuvre and stop than a car does. It has substantially more momentum than a car does. You often find a big truck driving just over the speed limit in the right lane tailgating and intimidating a car driver. There is also a down grade in the tunnel where truck drivers need to be mindful of braking procedures.
My experience on the freeways is that truck drivers are taking too many unnecessary risks, most likely because of delivery pressures. This is a serious warning call that we need to address the issue of trucks driving safely on our urban freeways. In the UK, trucks are required to travel in the left lane, only overtake in the lane immediately adjacent to the left lane, and are not allowed to enter any other lanes to the right of the over passing lane. This assists with segregating small vehicles form large vehicles and enhancing safe traffic flow. We need to introduce similar laws into Australia.
Of course there will be the issue of increases in transport costs lauded loudly by the trucking industry if such a law was introduced. However, this argument is spurious. For a few cents added to the cost of your morning cereal it would be worth saving the lives lost and reducing injuries resulting from truck crashes.
The other observation I would make is that trucks are set with their front bumper bars high off the ground. Their construction is incompatible with cars when a crash occurs (see here). They override the vehicle. It is time we regulate that trucks be manufactured to be crash compatible with other road vehicles particularly cars. We need over-ride, under-run and side skirting protection on trucks. That would help reduce the severity of crashes involving trucks and cars.
The Federal Department of Transport and Regional Services is introducing an Australian Design Rule to ensure trucks are manufactured with over-ride protection. However they have fallen short of requiring under-run and side skirting protection because they claim it is not cost-effective. A very disappointing result for road safety and one that I seriously question.
Finally it is worth pointing out that in Australia there are five road fatalities and around 60 serious injuries per day occurring. Tragically, Victoria suffered three of those fatalities today within a second of each other and in one place. When are we as a society going to start focussing on reducing this horrific carnage that rips the fabric of our society with the same level of commitment that our society pursues in regards to disaster mitigation or the shadow of a terrorist threat?
What is the difference between what happened in the Burnley tunnel today and what would have happened had a disaster occurred at an industrial plant or bush fire or even a terrorist attack? It’s time to wake up and do something about it. Victoria is one of the safest places on the planet to drive but we can do so much more to alleviate the tragedy of road carnage.