Truck Safety

Trucks, Motorhomes, Caravans & Cars

   The average caravan and tow vehicle is a very large and long combination that can be difficult to control on the road without any formal training or experience. Fortunately, there are many websites and training courses available that list the dos and don’ts of setting up, loading and towing a large caravan to help you enjoy a safe and trouble-free holiday. I strongly recommend enrolling in one before setting off on your next adventure.

Being budget and safety-conscious means some drivers travel at slower speeds on the highway for safety, better handling and lighter fuel consumption. The less fuel you have to buy, the longer you can spend on the road!

But having such a large vehicle combination on the road travelling at lower speeds can also be a hazard and inconvenience to other road users.

The fully loaded semi-trailer can be much longer at up to 19 metres for an average single trailer or up to 26 metres for a B-Double semi-trailer. When you drive out west and in the Northern Territory, you will often come across larger road trains that can be up to 53 metres long which is over 4 times the length of the average car/caravan combo.

The average passenger car is light-weight, small in comparison and has good acceleration and can therefore usually overtake other vehicles quickly, safely and in a much shorter distance than the larger caravan, RV and truck combinations. Cars also often typically travel at or close to the maximum speed limit of the highway.

A tow vehicle and caravan combination however can be often around 13 metres long or longer, have much slower acceleration, much longer braking distances, be dramatically affected by load distribution, crosswinds, swaying and often travel at speeds much less than the average passenger cars and maximum highway speeds.

An internet search of ‘caravan sway’ will produce many links to see some dramatic videos on the subject of loading a caravan correctly.
If you could imagine for a moment driving while towing 4 caravans and their 4 tow vehicles all joined together, you can see it is a mammoth task that needs careful planning and judgement by the driver who is dealing with unpredictable cars, trucks, caravans and road conditions.

This combination of their huge size and weight, slow acceleration, speed limiting legal requirements and safe driving practices means that these trucks will take a lot longer to overtake another vehicle or caravan combination, and need a lot longer distance to stop in any emergency.

When these trucks are fully loaded, they can carry many tons of cargo but there is usually only a few square inches of rubber on the road for each tyre, so they require a much longer safe stopping distance which must also be allowed for by the professional truck driver.

Mental Heath Issues Around Truck Drivers

.Did you know that truck drivers suffer a very high rate of suicide and mental health issues? Suicide is currently the second-highest cause of death in truck drivers under 39 years of age.

Mr Michael Kaine, National Secretary of the TWU, oversees insurance claims made by some 100,000 transport workers to their superannuation fund. He reports:
“There are between three and six suicide claims every month — a horrific number.”

A Monash University study found the percentage of drivers aged under 35 suffering severe distress was almost double that of the average Australian male of the same age.

Truck drivers are 13 times more likely to die at work than any other Australian worker and a report by the National Transport Insurance company found driver fatalities had more than doubled last year.

An exodus of truck drivers, fed up with long hours and stagnating wages, has resulted in a nationwide shortage. Despite this, truck driving is the most common occupation for male Australians, employing 1 in every 33 male workers, or approximately 200,000 drivers.

“Most drivers are on their second or third relationship because previous spouses have said ‘I may as well be a single parent.’ They’re doing their job and trying to provide for their families
and they’re doing that often in the middle of the night, for 14 to 16 hours a day, at huge costs to themselves, their sleep, their relationships and their health.” said, Dr Elizabeth Pritchard, Research Fellow at Monash University in her study into the mental health of Truck Drivers in Australia.

Dr Pritchard added, “Marriage breakdown, dislocation from family life and fears of infidelity were common among drivers and their partners.”

So, what can we do?

Several programs like ‘Wave to a Truckie’ have been trying to help. By joining the Truck Friendly caravan road safety program as a caravanner or RV driver you’ll do more than find out about safe towing practices, and how to safely interact with trucks and other vehicles while towing or driving on the highways. You may also do a bit to reduce mental illness and suicide.

While I am one of the first to point out, no driver, no matter what they drive, is perfect, I have found most people want to help others and do the right thing. We often only hear about the bad ones.

The ‘I’M TRUCK FRIENDLY’ sticker program is where ‘qualifying drivers’ of RV’s or towing caravans can obtain a free 30cm round green ‘I’M TRUCK FRIENDLY’ sticker for the rear of their caravan or RV. Only drivers who have a UHF radio installed, have read and understand the Truck Friendly driving guides from the website and want to help other drivers qualify for a free sticker.

When a truck or other driver comes up behind another vehicle, RV or caravan on the highways, “life is like a box of chocolates”. You never know what sort of driver you’re going to get. They may be courteous and know how to assist the truck driver. They may think they know what to do, but do the wrong thing, or they may be just plain ignorant, selfish, and not give a damn about road safety and other road users.

These stickers identify the ones who want to help and know how to help. They stand out from the crowd.

*Special thanks to the ABC and Dr Pritchard for her research 

Truck Stops and Rules to Know

  Most trucks are legally required to stop and rest every 12 to 14 hours as a safety measure. To assist truck drivers, State Governments have installed truck and car rest stops on the side of the highways throughout the country. Many RVs, caravanners and other travellers appreciate having a place off the road to rest and take a break as well.

It is important to note that these dedicated ‘Truck Stops’ are NOT designed as free campsites and generally caravans and RV’s are not permitted. In Queensland, unless signposted otherwise, overnight stays are NOT permitted. There are general use rest areas that can be used by trucks, cars and recreational vehicles.

Truck drivers, as regular drivers on these roads, are fully aware of the location of these truck stops and plan their trips so that they can be reached at a certain time to stay within the legal driving periods. Failure to do so results in a very heavy fine.

Trucks and B-Doubles need wide and long spaces to enter, park and leave the rest areas and they often arrive in the middle of the night when most travellers are sleeping. As expected, truck drivers can get very upset if they arrive at the truck stop and find one or more RVs or caravans parked in the middle of the stopping bay.

In some cases, the thoughtlessness of the van or RV driver may not allow room for a long B-double to park behind or in front of the van. This may mean the truck driver has to decide whether to drive on to the next stop, but he may not have enough driving hours left to get there.

If you must stop in the truck stopping bays please have the courtesy to park at one of the ends of the bay leaving plenty of room for the long trucks that the stops were designed for. By parking close to each other, caravanners and RV’s can allow uninterrupted space for the large trucks. Remember, trucks also need plenty of turning room, so don’t park in any turning bays.

Another issue you may encounter is the loud refrigeration motors and air brakes found on many trucks. These can make the truck stop an unpleasant place to sleep in a caravan or RV but it would be unfair to complain. Truck stops are intended for trucks after all.

Fuel Station Etiquette

  Have some consideration for other road users and do not park at fuel bowsers any longer than necessary. As soon as you have paid for your fuel, please move your vehicle before getting that coffee or using the toilet.

A car towing a caravan or large RV will often take up not only the fuel bowser used for the vehicle but simultaneously block the fuel bowsers immediately behind. Understandably, tempers can rise if left sitting in a car awaiting an inconsiderate driver ahead at the fuel browser.

Some truck diesel bowsers are separate from the main fuel filling area to provide plenty of space for trucks to get in, out and turn. Several have a turning bay associated with them so the trucks and large rigs can fill up and then turn around before exiting or filling a fuel tank on the other side.

Please do not park any vehicles in these turning areas as this will severely restrict the ability of the trucks to do a U-turn and get back on the road. Most are signposted so please be aware of them and put yourself in the shoes of the truck driver before stopping.

Many service stations have truck parking bays. Please be respectful of these and leave them for the larger and less maneuverable trucks or you may find yourself boxed in while the truck driver has his legally required break.

Wide Loads

  Regular travelers on Australia’s highways will see a vast array of vehicles and machinery being transported across the country, but few understand the role that pilot vehicles play in escorting these vehicles. It’s a harsh reality but ignoring these pilots and their large and oversize vehicles can have dire consequences.

These “pilot vehicles” travel our highways with a large yellow sign on the roof, accompanied by yellow, rotating beacons to warn motorists of the approach of an oversize load. Most oversize moves occur during daylight hours, between sunrise and sundown. Only extremely large oversize movements may happen at night to avoid disturbing heavier daytime traffic. These moves are well lit and are accompanied by a convoy of support vehicles, including police escorts.

The truck driver and escorts communicate on UHF Radio, channel 40. These vehicles can be travelling very slowly from sixty kilometres an hour to one hundred kilometres an hour, depending on size and weight, and state laws.

Anything wider than two and a half metres is oversize, and the truck carrying this load will be flashing you with bright yellow, rotating beacons and displaying a banner across the front. If you are approaching the rear of such a vehicle, you may see a bright yellow beacon, and a warning sign advising the load is wider than normal.

If the load is being escorted by one pilot, it’s wider than three and a half metres. If the load is preceded by more than two pilots and a Police Traffic Escort, the load is huge and you will have to pull over in a safe place off the road.

The first pilot vehicle you see may also have alternating flashing drive lights known as “wig-wags”. This indicates the load is more than four and a half metres wide.

Then there’s the rear pilot. It’s this driver’s job to warn vehicles approaching from the rear of the presence of something big sharing the highway ahead.

Sharing our roads is the key. A good tip if you are a regular traveller of our highways is the use of a UHF radio. It could save your life, or at the very least, your caravan or motorhome. A few stone chips are the least of your worries if you fail to give way to oversize vehicles.

A two-way radio allows you to scan or monitor channel 40 and communicate with large or oversize vehicles. It’s recommended drivers use channel 40 as the “call channel”, and move to other channels for a chat.

There will be strategic information that you can use to your advantage to make your travels safer. Most of the time the radio language is purely and simply information about road and traffic conditions. There is a very short window of chat opportunity when passing in opposite directions.

Some examples of terminology are, “Southbound oversize is 4.5 metres. You may need to back off and make some room.”

Another example, “Copy in the caravan? We have six metres. Please find a safe place to pull over.”

In some states, particularly in Western Australia, oversize vehicles can travel in convoy. So the call from the Pilot may be, “Copy southbound? We have two at four and a half metres.”

In most circumstances, the pilot or truck driver will instruct you how to safely negotiate the wide load from either direction with safe negotiation as the priority.

It is in the motorist’s best interest to communicate with the pilot and truck driver. It’s a simple matter of calling up on channel 40. They will do everything in their power to keep everyone in the vicinity of the load as safe as possible. Your cooperation will make their job much easier. If they don’t see any indication you’re waiting to overtake, you may stay behind the convoy for more kilometres than you had planned.

So be on the lookout for pilot vehicles and their oversize loads and share the road safely for a better travelling experience for all.

Source: National Pilot Vehicle Drivers Association and Chris Thiel.

Entering Traffic

   As a car driver, many of us do not want to be stuck behind a large truck, caravan or motorhome. Cars normally travel at a higher speed and can maintain speed on inclines. Many of us have seen a truck coming and pulled out onto the road and accelerated to get well in front of the truck without affecting the truck in any way.

When towing a caravan or driving a large RV however, the vehicle’s acceleration is severely affected. It will take a lot longer for you to get back up to highway cruising speed.

At 100km per hour, it doesn’t take long for a car or a truck to catch up to you while you are building up speed in an RV or car with a heavy van in tow. The rule is to wait until the truck and other traffic has passed until you move onto the road so as not to hinder the flow of traffic.

If an approaching vehicle has to slow because you have pulled out onto the road, it means you pulled out too early and you should have waited. No one wants an unhappy driver on our rear, upset because you held up traffic by your impatience.

If we all follow some simple guidelines and think about the other road users we can all enjoy this beautiful country and get home safely to our loved ones to tell them the happy stories of our trip.

Trucking Deadlines

Truck drivers, by law, are limited to the amount of time that they are allowed to drive within each 24 hour period. To help limit driver fatigue and potential accidents, heavy fines can be applicable if a truck driver spends more than 14 hours behind the wheel without a regulated break.

As a result, you will see many designated ‘truck stops’ along our highways where truck drivers can pull over and have a sleep before resuming their journey. Most truck drivers know the roads they travel well and know where these truck stops are. They then plan their driving times around reaching certain truck stops at a certain time.

All driving times, rest breaks and other information must be recorded in a logbook and produced on demand to the authorities to help prove the truck drivers have actually had a sleep or they risk very heavy fines. Many trucks also have GPS systems installed so that the truck owner can identify where they are at any time.

As their time is so heavily regulated on the road, every hour on the road is precious to the truck drivers as they try and get home safely to their families or destinations before their allowed driving time has expired. A truck driver on a 10-hour shift, driving at 90kph will travel 100km less than if he was able to drive at 100kph.

If truck drivers are held up by slower drivers, it may mean missing seeing their children or family and throw them behind schedule at a designated time to load or unload at a loading dock. It may also mean they miss a load the next day and cost them many hundreds or even thousands of dollars in lost income.

These load/unload times are called windows, and the window will only be open for a short time to use the loading dock at a supermarket otherwise they will be told to come back some other time which may be the next day. This is so other trucks are not held up by one late-arriving truck.

Put simply: Time is money.

This leaves the truck driver with little option but to sit and wait till he can get his truck unloaded or loaded again. He can’t pick up the next load until they have unloaded the first load.

This can be the difference between keeping their contracts with their customer and seeing their family tomorrow instead of today. Missing their child’s concert appearance or just seeing them before they go to bed can have a big impact on any family person and relationships.

“The knock-on effect of being caught behind slow drivers that they cannot pass can have a huge impact on their financial, social and personal lives.”

It is hard for a family to have one of the parents away from home working most of the time and this can cause stress on the relationships and lead to the breakdown of the family unit. It is little wonder that some drivers get very agitated and even aggressive when inconsiderate drivers travel in close convoy or speed up at overtaking lanes etc. not allowing other vehicles to pass and get on their way.

Here are some videos you can check out that show interactions with trucks

Being Truck Friendly means we can all be more aware and courteous to our fellow road users.