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Heading into the Trucking Future

Heading into the Trucking Future

Industry stalwart, Bob Woodward, looks back on the developments in technology and wonders where we are heading into the trucking future.

Over the past 35 years there has been significant improvements in productivity longer combinations with heavier axle groups within the Australian road transport fleet.

Increased axle group mass has been concurrent with developments in suspension systems, longer new combinations have resulted from research and broadened knowledge of vehicle dynamics. But there has also been significant development in emissions (cleaner engines) and safety technologies ABS and EBS.

There has been much learning along with many frustrations, but in the main, perseverance won through. There continues to be operators who believe that they are are superior to safety systems such as EBS, but I guess no matter the technology there will always be a minority who think that they are smarter.

Autonomous vehicles have been on the horizon and they will come but one of the many issues in this vision is that of interfacing of guidance and information standards. Many new vehicle smarts such as technologies that interrogate speed signage and, if active, can limit the speed of the vehicle accordingly, but only functions if the driver chooses to do so.

Clearly this interrogation is reliant on the standard of the signage and its installation. Unlikely to function when the sign is located behind an overhanging tree branch. Another is the auto dimming of high beam on rural roads, but this can a significant hazard when the high beam dims because of roadside signage reflection.

Image: Prime Creative Media

Axle Group Mass

In the past 35 years single steer axle mass has increased from 5.4 tonnes to 6.0 tonnes to 6.5 tonnes and even more than 7.0 tonnes (in some jurisdictions at a fee) driven by larger vehicle combinations requiring greater horsepower in conjunction with more stringent engine emission standards.

Australian road designers and maintainers are constantly critical of heavy vehicles damaging roads; but with inadequate design standards, poor maintenance and overprotective attitudes it will continue to be a challenge.

History shows that road manages were opposed to increases in mass (Higher Mass Limits) supposedly because of infrastructure deficiencies, then the Intelligent Access Program arrived and suddenly these same structures suddenly got stronger, another example of red tape bureaucracy.

The Australian Design Rules have limited cold tyre inflation pressure to 825 kPa (120 psi) supposedly to protect the ‘thin seal’ pavement of many roads. In 2006 when Euro 4 technology resulted in an increase in steer tare mass, a review resulted in an increase, for complying vehicles (Euro 4, ABS, Front Underrun and Cabin strength) to 6.5 tonnes.

This was considered by many to be a hasty decision; one Industry Association proposed a four-tiered approach in conjunction with a tyre section width/inflation pressure approach (to minimise the impact of tyre contact pressure) that could have paved the way for a steer axle mass up to 7 tonnes, and remember, twin steer vehicles were not granted any concession for Euro 4, mass increases eroded payload.


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