With the announcement of the increased axle weights on low emission trucks as part of trials in New South Wales and South Australia, with other states looking to follow, it poses the question, who or what’s on trial here?
Ostensibly, this is a trial to see whether it is practical for trucks with a front axle mass up to eight tonnes, and with 18.5 tonnes on the tandem drives is practical, that the trucks will be safe enough and the road pavement in these states will be able to cope at these masses.
The fact of the matter is that these electric and hydrogen powered trucks will be extremely safe. They will be the most sophisticated trucks on our roads. The electronics available in the latest technology is decades ahead of some of the safety systems on our existing truck fleet.
The average age of trucks in our current fleet is over 14 years, meaning the average level of safety in an average truck on the road will be that from 2009. It may have ABS, possibly EBS, maybe lane keeping, but will not have active cruise control or, more importantly, automatic emergency braking.
If that is the average truck, then these trial trucks are most definitely going to be safer, and by quite a distance.
If the reason to run this trial is to see if that extra mass is going to wreck our roads, then the state governments may have a point. The way roads are funded and maintained in Australia is problematic at the best of times and if the extra one and a half tonnes on a front axle creates issues, it will be due to the neglect by all governments to provide an extremely productive and efficient road system with which to keep the Australian economy moving ahead.
What is really on trial here is the willingness and the ability of our various levels of government to deliver on their promises to change the way the Australian economy functions to reduce carbon emissions and achieve carbon zero by 2050.
The fact of the matter is that any truck which is capable of keeping the freight movement efficient, which is central to economic growth, will have to use the new technologies, which are coming on stream. It is also an undeniable fact that the use of electric or hydrogen power weighs a lot more than its current counterpart.
The governments are faced with a choice, which is clearly a difficult one, and the nature of the choice is going to see a few chickens coming home to roost. The freight industry needs to function at a high level to maintain economic growth, it needs trucks.
The solution which delivers lower carbon emissions will be heavier than the current fleet. Therefore, the roads need to be able to cope with increased axle mass.
Perhaps, what’s on trial here is not the feasibility of higher axle masses, but the determination and ability of our set of governments to deliver on the goals they have set themselves?