A DAY after two people died when a B-double slammed into a queue of vehicles, a NSW minister has come under fire from the truckies union for suggesting drivers could receive “electric shocks” to keep them alert.
But Roads Minister Melinda Pavey said union members have their “heads in the sand” if they aren’t willing to discuss any new road safety technology.
On Tuesday, 19-year-old Hannah Ferguson and her boyfriend Reagan Skinner died on the Newell Highway, north of Dubbo in the NSW central west, when a truck ploughed into six vehicles waiting at roadworks.
Two people were trapped in the wreckage for four hours. The cause of the incident, which was described as so horrific that a construction worker collapsed in shock, has yet to be determined.
Talking to ABC radio on Wednesday morning, Ms Pavey said consideration should be given to in-cab devices that could recognise when a truck driver was losing concentration.
“The technology now is so advanced, a driver can be driving and get an electric shock if they look away from the windscreen for more than two seconds,” she said.
The Transport Workers Union (TWU) said it was offensive and dangerous to propose “electrocuting drivers” and the minister was being “heartless, arrogant and completely incompetent”.
Richard Olsen, NSW State Secretary of the TWU, said the overwhelming cause of the majority of truck-related accidents was not drivers, but “extreme and unfair working conditions” which the NSW Government was failing to address.
“Instead of blaming drivers, the minister must ensure that all levels of the supply chain take responsibility.
“This week alone, three truck drivers have died on the job, and the lives of two car drivers have also been lost,” he said.
“To not only ignore the actual problems that are killing people on our roads, but to also propose electrocuting people driving heavy vehicles, is not only baffling and deeply offensive to the families of those killed, it is also unconscionably dangerous in its negligence.”
The row comes as the NSW government has begun a crackdown on trucking companies flouting safety regulations following a spate of fatal crashes.
Talking to news.com.au, Ms Pavey said the TWU had “completely misconstrued” her comments.
“The TWU are talking about themselves on a day when it’s about the community and road safety.”
Several devices are on the market which claim to be able to rouse drowsy drivers and keep their eyes on the road.
These include cameras that monitor the driver’s eyelids and how many times they look away from the road. If they are deemed to have lost concentration, an audible alert sounds in the cab and the driver’s seat vibrates.
However, another system, which involves the driver wearing a bracelet, delivers a “gentle electric shock” should 16 indicators — such as heart beat — fall below a certain level.
“If a driver is a fluttering their eyes in tiredness or looking away, there are a variety of measures that can alert the driver,” Ms Pavey said.
“That can be through an electronic jab through the seat that gives a slight buzz or a message and some of our best companies are using that technology and investing in their workforce and safety.”
Despite insisting the union had taken her comments out of context, Ms Pavey nonetheless didn’t rule out devices that administered a shock.
“If we can’t have a decent honest conversation about the technology available, we have some issues. It’s not the time to put our heads in the sand.
“No one [wants] drivers out there in unsafe conditions and we do have a challenging shortage of drivers in an industry full of good people,” she said.
“It has been a struggle for some drivers to be monitored and but many have embraced it because they want to return to their families at the end of the day.”
On Wednesday, Ms Pavey said the government would throw the book at trucking companies and drivers doing the wrong thing.
Five people have died in three separate crashes involving trucks on NSW roads since Monday. There has been 45 per cent increase in heavy vehicle accidents on the state’s roads between 2016 and 2017.
Authorities began investigating a transport company involved in Monday’s fiery crash on the M1 south of Newcastle that killed a tanker driver. Police and Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) officers were seen inspecting vehicles at Garousse’s depot in Sydney’s west.
“The operation is another warning to operators to be aware they will be targeted and they will be removed from our roads if they are found to be unsafe,” said RMS Director of Compliance Roger Weeks.