Fact sheet: Heavy vehicle safety

Around 18% of all road crash deaths – about 210 in 20191 – involve a heavy vehicle. While heavy vehicle crashes are lower relative to other road users, these crashes are more likely to result in a death or serious injury and contribute to disproportionate harm to other road users.

While fatal crashes involving articulated trucks are slowly declining, fatalities in crashes involving heavy rigid trucks and buses have not reduced in the past decade.

Approximately 500 heavy truck occupants are hospitalised from road crashes each year. Of these, approximately 30 per cent are categorised with High-threat-to-life injuries. 2

The mass of a heavy vehicle contributes a considerable amount of kinetic energy to a crash, with the other vehicle or vulnerable road user in the collision enduring the worst of the impact.

Annual counts of fatalities in crashes involving heavy vehicles, 2010-20192

heavy vehicle safety

Crash avoidance and harm minimising technologies

  • Side (to protect pedestrians and cyclists from going under heavy vehicles) and rear (to reduce the intrusion into a car’s passenger compartment) underrun protection systems
  • Autonomous Emergency Braking
  • Fatigue Monitoring systems
  • Lane Departure Warning systems
  • Enhanced vehicle visibility markings
  • Enhanced driver’s field of view through the introduction of blind spot information system
  • Anti-lock braking/Electronic braking systems
  • Electronic Stability and anti-rollover
  • Cabin rollover protection

Regulatory improvements have been made to heavy vehicle braking and stability, although adoption into the heavy vehicle fleet can take a long time largely due to the significant cost of heavy vehicle assets.

The Performance-Based Standards (PBS) Scheme provides the heavy vehicle industry with the potential to achieve higher productivity and safety through innovative and optimised vehicle design. PBS vehicles are designed to perform their tasks as productively, safely and sustainably as possible, and to operate on networks that are appropriate for their level of performance.

Bus travel is historically one of the safest modes of transport. The safety transformation of the bus industry began after the 1989 Grafton bus tragedy and measures have been implemented including mandating seat belts on new coaches, improved accreditation schemes, improvements in driver training, and safety awareness programs.

Heavy vehicle regulation

The creation of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) and the establishment of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator in 2013 saw an increased focus on safety education on sharing the road with heavy vehicles, enforcement of heavy vehicle standards and safety-related campaigns, including chain of responsibility obligations to improve safety in transporting goods along the supply chain.

The National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme provides a formal process for recognising operators who have robust safety and other management systems in place.

The Industry Master Code represents an industry-led risk-based safety and compliance framework and provides a set of national standards and procedures developed to assist parties in the chain of responsibility to identify and mitigate risks to meet their obligations under the HVNL. In Western Australia Heavy Vehicle Accreditation is mandatory for anyone requiring a permit or order to perform any transport task within Western Australia, including interstate operators.

Heavy vehicle safety is a key consideration of the HVNL Review currently being conducted by the National Transport Commission, with policy options from the review expected to be considered by Australian transport ministers in 2021.

1 Heavy vehicles include heavy rigid trucks (gross vehicle mass greater than 4.5 tonnes), articulated trucks (prime mover with a turntable device that can be linked to one or more trailers), and buses with at least 10 seats (including drivers’ seat).

2 Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, 2020. Road Trauma Involving Heavy Vehicles—Annual Summaries.