With the cargo of wide loads stretching across the width of our rural roads, it is important motorists are aware of oversized etiquette. Graeme Ransley from the Road Accident Action Group discusses the Wide Load Education campaign about to be rolled out throughout Queensland.
Wide loads are getting wider, up to 10.5m, with police only escorting those above 5.5m. And with new drivers hitting the road every day, people moving to new locations heavily frequented by wide loads, as well as grey nomads and tourists travelling through – it is vital that wide load education is getting to people, not only in these rural and mining communities, but across the entire country.
In 2010, the Road Accident Action Group partnered with McAleese Group to educate motorists about wide loads after many requests from commercial road escort pilots and Queensland Police escort drivers.
Motorists didn’t seem to realise the wide load takes up the whole roadway – it cannot move over, can weigh hundreds of tonnes and is travelling at 80km per hour, so as not to hold up following traffic, which means they take long distances to stop.
There had been a number of very serious crashes with fatalities where motorists just ignored escort driver directions. Several mining contractor vehicles had rolled over as they had not slowed sufficiently, and pulled off road in unsafe places.
Motorist were becoming very frustrated following wide loads, overtaking at extreme speeds in an erratic manner, and getting annoyed with unplanned delays.
Another cause for concern was the community not seeming to accept the wide loads as a necessary part of state productivity – wide loads, whether agricultural, mining, gas, construction, are vital to the state economy, they mean jobs and taxation income for government.
Inexperienced drivers, such as p-platers, seldom had experience with wide loads while on their learner licence, and when they became employed to travel to mines they were shocked and did not know what to do when confronted with a police car coming at them on the wrong side of the road. The same applied to tourists and new residents in the region – all needing education what to do.
By 2013, there were up to 650 escorted wide loads per month in the Mackay region – this number alone meant more risk on the road, thus more education needed. RAAG were alerted that the standard of escort pilots varied a great deal, interstate accreditation varied, and interstate escort pilot drivers were frequently in the region.
RAAG participated with a submission to the inquiry by the National Transport Commission into the harmonisation of the accreditation of road escort pilots last year. We alerted in the submission that commercial escort vehicles are “last century” and need a national upgrade due to many loads running at night in poor visibility and often no one knows the width of the load approaching.
Many heavy vehicle drivers being approached by escort pilot drivers are not listening to UHF radio (channel 40) broadcasts. Truck drivers are instead speaking on the phone, on another channel chatting, listening to music, or have simply forgotten to turn on the social radio channel.
Every second vehicle in the Bowen Basin has an amber flashing light – roadworks vehicles by the dozen and mining vehicles, for example – we have asked that magenta lights be considered for pilot escort vehicles.
There have been numerous requests for LED lighting on the escort vehicle roof, replacing the antiquated yellow and black signs, showing clearly the width of the load approaching in all weather and low visibility conditions. We believe flowing LED arrows could be mounted on the front of the escort vehicle eliminating escort drivers having their arm out the window furiously directing traffic off the road.
We have asked that loads over 6m to be speed limited to 60km an hour on narrow roads due to limited places for fuel/gas tankers and cattle road trains to stop off the road. Pilot escort drivers are making risk assessments at high speeds, often distracted by radios, are risk assessments at 80km an hour actually safe?
Of very serious concern, pilot escort drivers do not have a fatigue management legislation to comply with, they are actually in control of a heavy vehicle, should they also comply with heavy vehicle fatigue legislation?
This information is based on many reports of escort drivers completing a shift, then returning to base a 10 or 12-hour drive away, for a back-to-back wide load escort. The Department of Transport and Main Roads need to put considerably more focus on this issue, and increase the number of longer, wider heavy vehicle stopping places on wide load routes.
WIDE LOAD ETIQUETTE
When a wide load escort pilot approaches, immediately slow down and start looking for a safe place to pull over. You cannot pull over at 100km an hour per hour – remember the approaching load weighs hundreds of tonnes travelling at 80kms per hour, so it is impossible for it to slow down quickly or take evasive action around you. A wide load escort pilot’s directions are legal and for your safety.
- If towing a van, monitor channel 40 for advance warning of wide loads approaching.
- Slow down for all wide loads, whether they have police escorts or not. We are aware of “hot” wide loads, which are large loads run illegally without any police escorts, so always be cautious and treat all large vehicles with respect.
- Remember Queensland roads have numerous narrow bridges, culverts, steep roadside batters and some unexpected obstruction – always be aware of your surroundings.
“By 2013, there were up to 650 escorted wide loads per month in the Mackay region – this number alone meant more risk on the road, thus more education needed.”
ROAD SAFETY COORDINATOR
Road Accident Action Group road safety coordinator Graeme Ransley has been involved with the group for eight years. Prior to this, he worked as a civil engineer, accredited driving trainer and mechanical business owner.
The aim of RAAG is to ensure a coordinated and collaborative approach to reducing the incidence and severity of road crashes on the Bruce Highway between Proserpine and St Lawrence, the Peak Downs Highway and associated western arterial roads, by targeting identified crash causal factors through driver education programs and initiatives.
RAAG works closely with Queensland Police Service and Department of Transport and Main Roads.
For more information on the Wide Load Education campaign visit www.raag.com.au.