Shevaun Dell

The heavy vehicle transport industry has been described as Australia’s deadliest and truck drivers are 16 times more likely to die at work than workers in any other industry. The number of driver fatalities in the heavy vehicle transport industry is almost four times the total number of fatalities in the aviation, rail and maritime industries combined. While the financial cost to society as a result of these fatal crashes in the heavy vehicle transport industry is significant; annually over $A1billion, they are overshadowed by the social impacts which are immense with the bulk of the burden falling on the victims, their families, friends and communities. Effective crash investigation in other industries, especially aviation, has resulted in substantial and sustained reduction in the rates of serious accidents suggesting that if heavy vehicle crash investigations in Australia were effective, underlying causes of these crashes would be identified and a significant reduction in the number of crashes should be evident. However, this does not appear to be the case and heavy vehicle drivers continue to be blamed for crashes. There appears to be an apparent lack of understanding of why and how these crashes occur and what is needed to prevent them. This paper reports on a survey of 320 heavy vehicle transport industry personnel whose opinions were sought on a range of key issues impacting safety in the industry. The overwhelming majority of respondents supported the notion that heavy vehicle drivers were blamed for crashes; the investigations were shallow and ineffective resulting in the causes not being understood and the prevention lessons not being learned. In addition to the most prevalent comment made by respondents that drivers were blamed, the greater majority of respondents suggested Regulators must do more to investigate and properly analyse the cause of a heavy vehicle fatal crash and the industry needs to have an independent national heavy vehicle crash investigation agency to investigate heavy vehicle crashes. This paper concludes that heavy vehicle crash investigations need to look beyond blaming the driver. To achieve this an independent national heavy vehicle crash investigation agency is needed to properly analyse the underlying causes of a heavy vehicle fatal crash. The agency needs to have investigators that have the experiences, skills, competencies and the investigative methodologies to properly conduct heavy vehicle fatal crash investigations so that the root causes are identified and the blame is not focused on the heavy vehicle driver.
Heavy vehicle crashes occur regularly resulting in death and serious injury, having enormous personal and economic impacts. Crash investigations have not been completed to a level that would identify why the crash has occurred with a number of investigations blaming the driver or not being completed in sufficient detail for the heavy vehicle transport industry to make informed recommendations to mitigate future crash risk. This study consisted of conducting semi-structured interviews of 20 investigators who had a combined total of 624 years of investigative experiences attained from policing, regulatory and private industries. The investigators were asked to describe the types of investigations they had conducted, the investigative methods they used, what was the intent of their investigation and the level of detail and information they captured in their investigations, just to name a few. The semi-structured interviews identified key themes, the most significant being that investigations focused on blaming the driver, no specific investigation method was used, no formal systemic investigation training was provided and investigators were trained on the job. Additionally, investigators lacked experience, knowledge and understanding of the heavy vehicle transport industry and investigation biases were evident that affected investigation outcomes. The semi-structured interview results identified why heavy vehicle drivers were blamed for crashes and identified several failings in the investigative method and process. A number of recommendations were made to suggest improvements to the industry. This included the need to implement a national heavy vehicle crash investigation agency that used a consistent systematic investigative methodology.

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