With two brothers who have died at the wheel, truck driver Duane Bowering addressed Senate about the dangers he and fellow truck drivers face when they are routinely forced to take his life – and those of other motorists – into his hands by carrying loads that are too heavy and unsecured.
“Unrestrained loads can go catapulting forward,” said Bowering at the Senate inquiry into road safety on Thursday.
He said people’s lives were “dramatically at risk” on the roads because companies were compromising safety standards to save costs.
Working for Blue Star Global in South Australia, Bowering said he and other drivers were being forced to take safety risks that could result in death. Other motorists were particularly vulnerable.
“There were three years where I wasn’t restraining all my loads properly. Unrestrained loads can go catapulting forward,” he said.
“If you are overloaded, it is going to massively impact on your braking ability.”
It was rare that Mr Bowering was allowed a meal break and he often had to work while fatigued.
Offering an tragic example Tony Sheldon, Transport Workers Union national secretary, said truck driver, Stephen Day, is serving a 10-year jail sentence for killing a cyclist after being required to work “extraordinary hours”.
“Yet both the employer and the client that was making money out of this terrible tragedy are not in the box, are not being questioned and not being charged,” Sheldon said.
“It is horrendous to see the truck drivers who do have responsibility on the road, but when you are threatened with being sacked or putting food on your table … then people push the law. Because the boss says you either you do it or we don’t get the contract, or you get terminated.
“That’s the situation that is a cocktail for death on our roads. It’s why so many people are being killed.”
Describing truck driving as Australia’s “deadliest profession”, Mr Sheldon said 330 people were killed each year in truck crashes on Australian roads adding that Safe Work Australia has found that truck drivers are 15 times more likely to die than workers in any other industry.
In NSW there were 309 road deaths last year, according to Transport NSW, whiile the Transport Workers Union says 53 of these deaths were truck-related deaths.
Mr Sheldon told the Senate inquiry that major businesses, including Coles and Woolworths, who use transport companies need to be held to account for their role in the road carnage. He said the economic demands that filtered down to truck drivers had created a “culture of risk-taking and law breaking in trucking”.
“While wealthy businesses get their bonuses for meeting their targets by cutting transport costs, Stephen [Day] is left to rot in jail. His family and the family of the man he knocked down are left devastated,” he said.
“We want to see accountability going right to the top and for the pressure to be taken off people like Stephen.”
Small transport operator Stephen Williams said businesses such as his were “forced into submission” under “huge financial pressure” from retailers and subcontractors who offered low rates.
“The government want us to run perfect trucks, well, we need help from the government and any other body that can help us get a proper rate so we can afford to maintain our trucks that governments of today want,” Mr Williams said.