Evidence mounting that kilometre rate causes fatalities

File ShotIn a recent release from the Transport Workers Union spurred on by the latest series of fatal crashes involving heavy vehicles Tony Sheldon, National Secretary of Transport Workers’ Union has included a series of extracts from key findings pointing to a low kilometre rate responsible as a major factor in the high death toll of truck drivers.

He said the reports of fatal truck crashes last weekend in Queensland and New South Wales are tragedies for those involved and their loved ones, and a tragic reminder of the lethal pressures in Australia’s most dangerous industry.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of those involved in these tragic incidents. The full details of the crashes have yet to emerge, and it is crucial that these are fully investigated by the relevant State road authorities, coroners

and also by workplace accident investigators, because the roads are a workplace for truck drivers,” he said.

“One death on our roads is too many, but when hundreds of people are killed in truck crashes each year and thousands more are injured, it highlights the scale of the safety crisis in the trucking industry.

“Every day across Australia, truck drivers and transport companies are forced to meet unrealistic demands and impossible deadlines set by major clients, no matter what.

These pressures and demands have made driving a truck the most dangerous job you can do in Australia, with a death rate that is 11 times the industrial average.”

Mr Sheldon claims the scale of the economic pressures facing truckies has been shown by a recent survey of drivers in the Coles supply chain, where 40% admitted they have had to delay vehicle maintenance because of economic pressures from clients.

“More than twenty years of evidence has shown time and again the link between pay and related conditions for truck drivers and safety on our roads.  Truck drivers just want to do their job and get home safely, but relentless demands from major clients like Coles force drivers to cut corners and push the envelope,” he stressed.

In response to this weight of evidence, (which you van see below) the Government established the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal last year. The Tribunal offers a key tool in tackling the hundreds of fatal truck crashes each year, but the TWU claimed it’s now under threat, with the Federal Coalition pledging to conduct an ‘urgent review’ if successful in September’s election.

“Truck drivers share the roads with everyone else and the argument that pushing truckies to the edge doesn’t place lives at risk fails the test of common sense. For all those families, workplaces and communities devastated by truck crashes, we must not stop until we have addressed the roots of the crisis.”

The attached documents claim to validate Mr Sheldon’s comments:

Driving a truck is with a death rate that is 11 times the industrial average.

Source: Safe Work Australia, Work-related traumatic injury fatalities, Australia 2010-11, December 2012, p. VII

Examples of evidence from over 20 years of commissions, coroners reports and Inquiries explicitly linking rates of pay and safety:


The Full Bench of the Industrial Relations Commission of NSW, 2006:

Re Transport Industry – Mutual Responsibility for Road Safety (State) Award and Contract Determination (No 2) [2006] NSWIRComm 328 the Full Bench of the Industrial Relations Commission of NSW said:

“We consider that the evidence in the proceedings establishes that there is a direct link between methods of payment and/or rates of pay and safety outcomes”

 NSW Deputy Coroner Dorelle Pinch, 2005

Commented in 2005 after the tragic deaths of a number of employee drivers:

“As long as driver payments are based on a (low) rate per kilometer there will always be an incentive for drivers to maximize the hours they drive, not because they are greedy but simply to earn a decent wage.”

 The Hon Lance Wright QC and Professor Michael Quinlan, 2008

The 2008 report from The Hon Lance Wright QC and Professor Michael Quinlan stated that:

“This Review finds that the overwhelming weight of evidence indicates that commercial/industrial practices affecting road transport play a direct and significant role in causing hazardous practices. There solid survey evidence linking payment levels and systems to crashes, speeding, driving while fatigued and drug use. The evidence has been accepted and indeed confirmed by Government inquiries, coronial inquests, courts and industrial tribunal hearings in Australia over a number of years. The association between remuneration and safety applies to both employed and owner drivers.”

 Andrew Villis, Former driver, In evidence to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission

“When I was required to perform excessive hours I would sometimes experience a state of mind that I can only describe as hallucinations, which I considered to be due to sleep deprivation. I would ‘see’ trees turning into machinery, which would lift my truck of the road. I ‘saw’ myself run over motorcycles, cars and people. On one occasion I held up the highway in Grafton while waiting for a truck which was not there to do a three point turn (I was radioed by drivers behind me asking why I had stopped). I estimate that I had experiences like these roughly every second day. They were not an uncommon thing for me.”

 Robert Ireland, 14 years driving trucks, Statement for Mutual Responsibility Award

“When I started driving, I was 6 foot 1 inch tall. When I stopped, I was 5 foot 10. One day, I stood up from playing with my daughter on the couch and collapsed from the sudden agony. I could not move the bottom half of my body. It turned out that all the joints in my spine had compressed.

My doctors informed me that this was most likely caused by me spending so long in a seated position. I was required to lie flat on my back to allow my spine to slowly return to normal. It took many weeks before I got any feeling back in my legs and I was not able to walk for many months. I had to go on anti-depressants to reverse the chemical imbalance that drugs had caused in my body.

Before the back injury I had to have an operation to remove one of my testicles. this was because of bad circulation from sitting down in the vehicle for long periods at a time in the vehicle. It took me almost 2 years to return to normal from those physical traumas. I have only just started to get close to my children over the past 18 months.”

 Full extract Regina v Randall John Harm, District Court of New South Wales (unreported, 26 August 2005) His Honour Justice Graham said:

“In the present matter, the statement of facts refers to safety cams and log books. Restrictions on the maximum speed of heavy vehicles have also been implemented. Despite those measures, heavy vehicle truck drivers are still placed under what is, clearly, intolerable pressure in order to get produce to the markets or goods to their destination within a time fixed, not by any rational consideration of the risks involved in too tight a timetable, but by the dictates of the marketplace. Or, to put it bluntly, sheer greed on the part of the end users of these transport services. The time has come when those who are the beneficiaries of the interstate transport industry must take some blame for what happens at the sharp end of the interstate transport industry. The drivers are put under intolerable pressure. They drive when they are too tired, and when that becomes too difficult, they take drugs to try and prolong the state of awakening, albeit with risks that it can impede their concentration and actually make things worse.

When a collision occurs, such as happened here, who ends up in the dock? Who ends up behind bars? Not the operators. Not the transport companies. Not the big corporations who are the people who use those transport services. But the driver. It’s the driver who goes to gaol. The companies still make the profits. The drivers become another casualty of the heavy transport industry. Their lives are ruined, in many ways just as badly as many of the victims lives are ruined, by the imperative of greed which lies at the heart of the interstate transport industry. Case after case in the Courts demonstrates the inadequacy of the government’s response to these problems and the inadequacy of the transport industry’s own response to these problems.”


The Federal Department of Transport and Communications, 1991

In the 1991 report: ‘Long Distance Truck Drivers: On road performance and economic reward’:

“Any deviation from a fixed salary tends to encourage practices designed to increase economic reward which are not synergetic with reducing exposure to risk.”


Professor Michael Belzer, 2006


Sworn testimony before the NSW Industrial Relations Commission Mutual Responsibility For Road Safety Case, 2006:


“…Every 10% more that drivers earn in pay rate is associated with an 18.7% lower probability of crash, and for every 10% more paid days off the probability of driver crashes declines 6.3%.”


Professor Michael Belzer, 2008


Statement in National Transport Commission Report – “Safe Payments. Addressing the Underlying Causes of Unsafe Practices in the Road Transport Industry”:


“The point estimates indicate that if mileage rate were to increase to $0.37 per mile, drivers would reduce their weekly hours to be in compliance with current regulations. At this rate, drivers are being compensated at a rate sufficient for them to be able to satisfy their income requirements without being induced to work in excess of mandated law.”


Professor Michael Belzer, 2011


Excerpt from “The Economics of Safety: How Compensation Affects Commercial Motor Vehicle Driver Safety”


Higher driver pay is associated with safer operations. Clearly the more drivers are paid, and the more they are paid for their non-driving time, the less likely they are to have crashes … If the fundamental exigencies of markets work at all, then cargo owners’ need for lowest price will lead to a race to the bottom and safety will suffer. Because economic forces are involved, economic solutions must be considered.”


National Transport Commission, 2008


In the report – “Safe Payments. Addressing the Underlying Causes of Unsafe Practices in the Road Transport Industry”:


Economic factors create an incentive for truck drivers to drive fast, work long hours and use illicit substances to stay awake. These economic factors include:


  • Low rates of pay; incentive based payment methods (such as per kilometre or per trip);
  • Unpaid working time; and
  • Other  factors  include  the  hyper-competitive  nature  of  the  industry  and  the  low bargaining power faced by drivers.


Hensher, D.A., Battellino, H.C., Gee, J.L. and Daniels, R.F, 1991


In the research report: ‘Long Distance Truck Drivers: On road performance and economic reward’, December 1991, at p.102. Extract:


“The Federal Department of Transport and Communications (Commonwealth) study into on- road performance and economic reward found: ‘It is the rate per se which acts to stimulate road practices in various forms in order that an acceptable level of total earnings (net of truck-related expenses) is obtained. Any deviation from a fixed salary tends to encourage practices designed to increase economic reward which are not synergetic with reducing exposure to risk.”


‘Pay Incentives and Truck Driver Safety: A Case Study’

Published in the Industrial and Labor Relations Review (59 Ind. & Lab. Rel. Rev. 205),

January 2006


“The pay increase influenced safety by modifying the behaviour of current drivers. The data indicate that drivers had better crash records after the pay increase, when the analysis controls for demographic, occupational, and human capital characteristics.”

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