Around 18 per cent of all road crash deaths – about 210 in 2019 – involve a heavy vehicle. While heavy vehicles crash less often than other vehicles, these crashes are more likely to result in a death or serious injury.
While fatal crashes involving articulated trucks are slowly declining, fatalities in crashes involving heavy rigid trucks and buses have not reduced in the past decade.
Approximately 500 heavy truck occupants are hospitalised from road crashes each year. Of these, approximately 30 per cent are categorised with high threat-to-life injuries.
Regardless of fault, the greater mass of these vehicles contributes a considerable amount of kinetic energy to a crash, with the other vehicle or vulnerable road user in the collision enduring the worst of the impact.
Available Australian evidence suggests that in approximately 80 per cent of fatal multiple-vehicle crashes involving heavy trucks, fault is not assigned to the heavy truck. Note however that assignment of fault (or key-vehicle-status) is not necessarily feasible for all crashes.
Annual counts of fatalities in crashes involving heavy vehicles, 2010-2019
Crash avoidance and harm minimising technologies
Technologies to avoid crashes and minimise harm include:
- Side (to protect pedestrians and cyclists from going under heavy vehicles) and rear (to reduce the intrusion into a car’s passenger compartment) underrun protection systems
- Autonomous Emergency Braking
- Fatigue monitoring systems
- Lane departure warning systems
- Enhanced vehicle visibility markings
- Enhanced driver’s field of view through the introduction of blind spot information system
- Anti-lock braking/Electronic braking systems
- Electronic Stability Control and anti-rollover
- Cabin rollover protection
Regulatory improvements have been made to heavy vehicle braking and stability, although adoption into the heavy vehicle fleet can take a long time largely due to the significant cost of heavy vehicle assets.
The Performance-Based Standards (PBS) Scheme provides the heavy vehicle industry with the potential to achieve higher productivity and safety through innovative and optimised vehicle design. PBS vehicles are designed to perform their tasks as productively, safely and sustainably as possible, and to operate on networks that are appropriate for their level of performance.
Bus travel is historically one of the safest modes of transport. The safety transformation of the bus industry began after the 1989 Grafton bus tragedy and measures have been implemented including mandating seat belts on new coaches, improved accreditation schemes, improvements in driver training, and safety awareness programs.
Heavy vehicle regulation
The creation of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) and the establishment of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator in 2013 saw an increased focus on safety education on sharing the road with heavy vehicles, enforcement of heavy vehicle standards and safety-related campaigns, including chain of responsibility obligations to improve safety in transporting goods along the supply chain.
The National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme provides a formal process for recognising operators who have robust safety and other management systems in place.
The Industry Master Code represents an industry-led risk-based safety and compliance framework and provides a set of national standards and procedures developed to assist parties in the chain of responsibility to identify and mitigate risks to meet their obligations under the HVNL. In Western Australia Heavy Vehicle Accreditation is mandatory for anyone requiring a permit or order to perform any transport task within Western Australia, including interstate operators.
On 28 May 2021, Infrastructure and Transport Ministers approved a two-year HVNL Safety and Productivity Program (the Program) to implement reform outcomes from the HVNL review. The Program will develop reform options for Ministers’ consideration, with final legislation to be presented to Ministers in mid-2023. The goal of the Program is to deliver a modern, outcome-focused law regulating the use of heavy vehicles that:
- is based on a new, risk-management-focused operator assurance framework
- offers simplicity for those who need it and flexibility for those who seek it.
 Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, 2019. Fatal heavy vehicle crashes Australia quarterly bulletin Oct-Dec 2019.
 Heavy vehicles include heavy rigid trucks (gross vehicle mass greater than 4.5 tonnes), articulated trucks (prime mover with a turntable device that can be linked to one or more trailers), and buses with at least 10 seats (including drivers’ seat).
 Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, 2020. Road Trauma Involving Heavy Vehicles—Annual Summaries.
 Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, 2016. Information Sheet 78, Heavy truck safety: crash analysis and trends.