Rise in truck deaths prompts call for return of road safety watchdog.

Action needed: The TWU says a road safety watchdog would help reduce the number of accidents involving trucks after fatalities spiked in 2017.
Action needed: The TWU says a road safety watchdog would help reduce the number of accidents involving trucks after fatalities spiked in 2017.

A spike in fatal accidents involving trucks in NSW has prompted the transport union to call for the return of a road safety watchdog.

The Transport Workers Union said deaths were “out of control” and demanded something be done.

A total of 88 people were killed in crashes involving trucks in the 12 months to September 2017, an increase from 61 deaths in 2016, according to statistics from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics.

Nearly half of Australia’s truck deaths were in NSW.

The TWU said the number of transport workers killed on the job rose from 56 in 2016, to 65 in 2017.

The jump contrasts with a drop in workplace deaths, and TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon said transport workers now accounted for 40 per cent of all deaths.

He said the federal government had to take responsibility, because  in April 2016 it chose to scrap the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, which was established in 2012 to make trucking safer by establishing pay conditions for drivers.

However Malcolm Turnbull decided to abolish the tribunal because he said there was no link between pay and road safety, and two reviews of the tribunal found it provided little benefit.

Mr Turnbull said the TWU was one of the big winners from the tribunal.

A 2017 study by Macquarie University found one in 10 truck drivers worked more than 80 hours a week, and 42 per cent of owner-drivers said drivers didn’t report safety breaches because they feared losing their jobs.

Mr Sheldon said truck drivers were being forced to break the law but the return of a watchdog would stop major companies from forcing transporters to act illegally.

“The financial pressure they put on transport operators and drivers through low-cost contracts means trucks are not maintained and there is constant pressure on drivers to speed, drive long hours and skip mandatory rest breaks,” he said.

Mr Sheldon said a cross-party Senate committee had unanimously recommended the government facilitate industry talks to establish an independent industry body.