From the CEO: Road culture needs to change if we’re going to save lives

Read time: 3 mins

By Warren Clark

Originally Published in Deals on Wheels Issue 497

Road safety is not a blame game and it’s not a case of Us versus Them.

But research consistently finds that in fatal collisions involving a car and a truck, the car is at fault about 80 percent of the time.

What’s crystal clear is that Australia needs to embrace a better on-road culture, where light vehicle drivers are more aware of the requirements to drive safely around heavy vehicles.

With this in mind, NatRoad commissioned national research 18 months ago to examine public attitudes towards heavy vehicles.

Some 91 percent of Australians said they considered road transport “important”: or a “very important” part of their lives.

It was a representative sample of Australian road users while the pandemic was still fresh in their minds so perhaps that’s not a surprising finding.

It’s when road user attitudes were tested that it became more interesting.

Some 81 percent agreed that truck drivers are considerate and drive well around other road users.

Conversely, 37 percent reported seeing an instance of poor truck driving in the previous month.

Some 96 percent of Australians who drive on roads give themselves a tick for driving well around trucks but they are less certain about “other people”, with only 48 percent agreeing that others drive well around trucks.

Let’s go out on a limb and make some observations here.

Clearly, light vehicle drivers have a higher opinion of their own abilities behind the wheel than they do of their peers.

But trucks being large and imposing beasts, just one instance of a driver behaving badly trends to leave a lasting impression in a motorist’s mind.

I’ve heard drivers bemoan their poor standing with car drivers and in the community generally. 

NatRoad’s research found that 40 percent of Aussies personally know someone who drives either a small, medium, or large truck (or more than one category).

Truck drivers are not a distant and remote group, they are people they know and socialise with, so their reputation can’t be that bad.

The bottom line here is that a whopping 98 percent either strongly agreed or agreed that road freight is an essential industry.

All this adds up to the need to change the motoring culture.

Experts have long praised the mindset of defensive driving and some education authorities try and instil in high school students with freshly-minted licenses. 

Courtesy needs to be at the heart of how every road-user acts when behind the wheel.

Motorists don’t need to fear a truck when they see one on the highway, they just need to be more aware and instinctively know how to behave.

We have a National Road Safety Strategy. Its shortcoming is not in its intent but its failure to tackle the big issue of on-road culture.

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator is trying to raise awareness of heavy vehicles among young drivers and that’s great, but we need to go much further.

NatRoad is right behind planning principles being put in place to separate heavy vehicles from light vehicles wherever new infrastructure is built but that’s a slow process that will take the best part of a generation to occur, if at all.

Let’s have a Government-backed national education and advertising campaign urging all road users to lift their game and respect each other.

Every licensing authority in each State and Territory must embed questions about behaviour around trucks into their tests.

Prove you know how much room to give a truck, and that you know not to turn from the inside lane in front of one, or stay on your L plates. Only when motorists are educated from a young age to understand and respect heavy vehicles, will we see markedly safer roads.