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  • Writer's pictureTrevor Wetmore

Overloaded trucks: who’s willing to stop them?

Updated: Dec 13, 2018

Six months ago, I posted a summary of serious safety issues in the Australian trucking industry that contribute significantly to our unacceptable road toll.

Two months ago, the Australian Heavy Vehicle National Law was amended: every party involved in consigning, packing, loading, moving or receiving goods is now linked in a Chain of Responsibility (CoR) for safe transportation. This includes avoiding dangerous overloading of trucks.

Any party without appropriate safety management systems faces penalties of up to $300,000 or five years’ imprisonment for individuals and $3million for corporations, even if an incident has not occurred.

This is in addition to regulations introduced in 2016 by the International Maritime Organisation, requiring a Verified Gross Mass (VGM) for every shipping container. The aim is to protect workers, cargo, infrastructure and the environment, by preventing incorrect stowage decisions that can result in container stack collapse or overboard loss.

So, with new national and international regulations limiting the weight of shipping containers, are our roads safer now?

Not if supply chain stakeholders fail to comply with the safety regulations.

Not if the regulators fail to enforce them.

A 2017 survey by Victorian International Container Terminals revealed significant non-compliance: 20% of Australian export containers and more than 40% of import containers varied from their declared weight by 500kg, while more than 8% of exports and 11% of imports varied by a tonne or more.

And here’s what a member of my team experienced recently, which I believe represents the dangerous practices that continue daily in the container supply chain:

  • A multi-national freight forwarder (the consignor in this particular CoR) referred my company, Cindicium, to a shipper who had been discovered transporting a container that was 6 tonnes heavier than its declared VGM.

  • When a Cindicium team member visited the shipper, he was advised that they used to apply Method 2 VGM weighing with their forklift and a set of industrial scales. But it was taking too long, and the accuracy of the scales was doubtful, so they’d started estimating weights – hence the misreported VGM.

  • My team member demonstrated Cindicium’s CLAW technology (Method 1 VGM weighing) to the shipper, weighing a packed container in under 15 minutes. The CLAW (a weighbridge in a toolbox, requiring a single operator) verified the gross mass as 29,120kg. This surprised the shipper, who had estimated about 25T.

  • Using the CLAW, my team member discovered that not only was the container 4T heavier than the shipper’s estimate, but also the weight distribution was dangerously unbalanced, with 18T (62%) at one end.

  • At this point, the side-loader transport arrived to collect the container and the driver struggled to lift it onto the truck. According to my team member, everyone looked concerned but did nothing.

  • The truck driver made a telephone call, presumably back to base to ask what to do, as we guess he was concerned that he was overloaded. After the phone call, he drove the truck off the premises and onto the roads.

  • I’ve since added the container VGM to the net weight of the side-loader truck to calculate that it was at least 7.4T over the allowed road limit of 42.5T.

So, all three parties – the consigner, shipper and truck driver – breached their CoR safety responsibilities and put the lives of other road users at risk.

Were they penalised? Not to my knowledge.

Why does it matter?

  • In the ten years to 2016, 1,898 Australian road users died in truck crashes.

  • Heavy trucks comprise only 2.4% of all registered vehicles in Australia, but they are involved in 16% of road crash fatalities.

  • One in six drivers who own their own trucks do not believe they can refuse an unsafe load.

We have new safety regulations with tough penalties in place. We have innovative, easy-to-use, affordable technology to facilitate compliance. To save lives, all we need now is a chain of responsible innovators, trucking companies, peak bodies and government willing to work together to stop overloaded trucks killing road users.

Cindicium is ready to be a strong link in that chain.

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