THERE have been unconfirmed reports of Victorian traffic police forcing trucks off road with unroadworthy tickets in the lead-up to the monster rain event set to dump up to 150mm on the State’s grain belt.
Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) grains group president Ross Johns said he had been told of trucks being cited for defects and being put off the road as farmers worked around the clock to get off as much crop as they could before the rain.
“I was told there had been people booked in the Wimmera region, there were also claims the alleged offences not necessarily a major safety flaw, obviously we will find out more, but if that is the case it is very disappointing,” Mr Johns said.
A truck off the road meaning two days of lost carting could mean losses in the tens of thousands of dollars for an impacted farmer due to quality downgrades to the grain that could not be harvested.
Victoria Police confirmed there had been a focus on testing heavy vehicles, as part of a cross-jurisdictional operation focusing on the heavy vehicle road transport sector across Australia.
The increased testing of trucks and truck drivers is part of Operation Austrans Phase Two, which will run for 13 days until Saturday 9 December.
Victoria Police road policing operations superintendent John Fitzpatrick said heavy vehicles continue to be over-represented in road trauma.
“Comprising less than four per cent of the national road fleet, heavy vehicles are involved in around 17 per cent of road fatalities nationally,” Superintendent Fitzpatrick said.
Mr Johns called on law enforcement issues to show common sense in regards to trucks.
“No one is justifying dangerous operating practices but when there are relatively minor faults, often caused due to the trucks operating on roads that are not of the appropriate standard, then perhaps some common sense could be applied,” he said.
The bookings come a year after the Victorian heavy vehicle squad attracted the ire of the farming community for what was seen as heavy-handed interpretations of roadworthy laws, including bookings for matters such as oil on engines or ripped seats.
The time lag waiting to get the trucks re-registered once the repairs had been made was also criticised.
There were talks between the Victoria Police and the VFF on the matter which was thought to have resolved the issue, but there are suggestions there may be another harvest flare-up.
Mr Johns said the timing of the renewed focus on roadworthiness could not be worse.
“On one hand the State Government is saying it understands the risks farmers undertake and that it wants to support them, on the other you have cases like this, where farmers are faced with a significant weather risk yet are forced off the road for what could be relatively minor issues.”
VFF president David Jochinke said the situation had to be put in context.
“I haven’t heard what the alleged offences were – if it is category one stuff – bald tyres or failing brakes then there is absolutely no way we condone that, but if it is a repeat of what we saw last year then you would have to hope more common sense would be shown.”
Mr Johns said the concept of chain of responsibility (COR) regulations meant Government needed to provide safe roads for trucks.
“If you look at how COR is set up, the onus is on growers, yet there is no directive for the Government to provide roads that are safe for trucks, it seems to me if it is good for one sector it is good for the other.
“So many of the issues with trucks are coming about because of the woeful state of the roads we are forced to drive on.”