Heavy hauliers gathered in Christchurch last month for their annual Heavy Haulage Conference. MARY SEARLE BELL was there.
THE HOT TOPIC THIS year was the proposed changes to the VDAM (Vehicle Dimensions and Mass) Rule. The board has spent considerable time going over the modified document and having numerous conversations with the NZ Transport Agency about the changes, to try to ensure the updated rule is fair, consistent and clear. The conference provided the last opportunity for members to ensure that anomalies and confusion in the ‘yellow draft’, as it is known, are all addressed.
Representatives from the NZTA were on hand to talk about the changes to the rule and other issues of interest to the organisation – most often around various pieces of infrastructure that are problematic to the moving of oversize and overweight loads.
Socially, there was a lot on too, from a fun quiz over drinks on the Thursday evening to the awards dinner on the Friday night, and the many catch-ups with old friends and tall tales told over a refreshing beverage or two throughout the whole event.
VDAM Rule review
The Ministry of Transport is currently reviewing its Vehicle Dimensions and Mass Rule. The rule specifies requirements for dimension and mass limits for vehicles on the roads. It also balances the risks that heavy vehicles present to other road users and their impact on the road infrastructure, against the need to allow the heavy vehicle fleet to optimise operations.
On July 8 the Associate Minister of Transport, Craig Foss, released the ‘yellow draft’ of the VDAM Rule with preferred proposals for consultation. Submissions on the yellow draft have now closed. The aim is to have the final draft signed by the minister at the end of September, with the new rule coming into force on November 1.
Kevin O’Kane, principal advisor with the NZTA, says his organisation has had continuous conversations with the association about the draft, trying to eradicate overlaps and confusion.
“We’re confident we expect to end up with a better set of rules because of the consultation,” he told the conference delegates.
With regard to the heavy haulage industry, the key fundamentals of the rule are staying the same, however some details are changing. O’Kane says key changes stem from the Coroner’s Report following a fatal crash involving a car and a house being relocated.
One change to the rule that sparked debate was around the NZTA’s desire for someone to have overall responsibility for the load. O’Kane says this has come from WorkSafe – “somebody has to be in charge”. The agency had used the term ‘lead pilot’ but the HHA has suggested this is changed to ‘on-road supervisor’ and the NZTA has accepted this.
O’Kane also says, currently, you can get a multitude of different tickets for breaching your permit but there’s no ticket for not having a permit. However, once the changes come into effect, the police will be able to “give you a whopping great fine for operating without a permit”.
The NZTA also wants to be able to decline a permit on the basis of previous traffic offences. This is all about safety and will be an option for the NZTA, not a requirement. O’Kane gave an example of a guy with a 50 max permit who had three breaches in a month, and asked, “should he be given another permit”.
Two other minor but noteworthy changes to the VDAM Rule include formally allowing sound warning devices (not formally defined but O’Kane suggests staying away from an emergency siren unless you want angry police), and signs and panels on loads will only need to be frangible (brittle, able to be broken into fragments) when they extend beyond a solid backing.
Sign of the times
The pilot members of the HHA are looking at a variety of new signage options, including variable message LED signboards, reverse signage (coloured lettering on black), and alternative wording to current options (‘large crane follows’ rather than ‘wide load follows’, etc). The aim is to get their message across to other road users in a better way.
A number of members are currently trialling new signs. Peter Jacob has an LED signboard and says while there is the advantage of being able to programme in a number of different messages and easily flick between them as needed, they are hard to see in bright light. Also, they interfere with CB radio.
“They can really mess comms up,” he says. “To the point I hardly use my sign any more.”
Hastings House Removals is trialling new pilot livery – reflective chevrons in yellow and orange down the sides of the vehicle along with the words ‘oversize traffic control’ – and says it is getting a good response from the public along with a big thumbs up from the trucking fraternity. However, pilots who only undertake occasional jobs and/or use their private vehicle for piloting work voiced a reluctance to adopt the livery.
Senior sergeant Max Newman of the CVIU (the police’s Commercial Vehicle Investigation Unit) asked delegates how often they checked the status of staff’s driving licences. He emphasised the importance of sighting the actual licence when employing a new driver – don’t accept a photocopy – to ensure the driver has the correct endorsements as well as regularly checking the status of licences.
They have seen a number of instances where a driver has had his licence suspended due to ‘driving under the influence’ (a DUI) but hasn’t told their boss. If they get pulled over on a suspended licence the penalty includes impounding the truck for 28 days. And while this can be contested, you’re still going to lose the vehicle for up to five days while it gets sorted.
Remember, a driver with an expired, suspended or disqualified licence can void your insurance!
Barry Wright, NZTA national structures manager, is responsible for all the bridges on the state highway network. He says a lot of the country’s bridges are older and need to be taken care of. And while a significant percentage of damage to bridges is due to flood and scour, live load risk is a high priority.
He says the agency estimates that up to 10 percent of loads are overweight. The permitting system allows increased loads based on a greater certainty of the load.
In positive news, HHA chief executive Jonathan Bhana-Thomson says the Wellington Urban Motorway, historically a no-go, is now okay to use for overweight loads.
In Tauranga the news is less happy with the NZTA reluctant to allow oversize loads on the Tauranga Eastern Link. Its reasoning is largely to do with the fact that people have paid to use the road and don’t want to be held up by a large load travelling at reduced speed. Also, as it’s a brand new piece of infrastructure, NZTA doesn’t want to wear it out.
The association is in dialogue with NZTA Tauranga about the issue.
“It’s a great bit of road for taking big loads on, which is why we’re working on it,” says Jonathan.
The NZ Trucking Association was founded to ‘actively represent and support trucking related businesses’. CEO Dave Boyce was at the HHA conference to talk about a couple of great initiatives he is spearheading.
His association has just launched a truck safety programme as it was apparent a lot of people don’t know how to behave around trucks. The goal of the programme is to reduce the number of road accidents involving trucks and focuses on creating awareness, not blame, and comprises safety tips for sharing the road.
The programme involves taking a brand new large truck and a real-life working truck to a school and allowing students to climb into the truck so they can get a firsthand experience of what a truck driver can and cannot see. The truck drivers and other volunteers talk about things like blind spots, passing distances, and what large trucks are capable and not capable of.
The programme is in its very early days and just two school visits have taken place, with great success. The Trucking Association is currently seeking funding to enable it to follow up on demand for bookings going forward.
The second initiative is Trucking 2016, a trucking show designed to celebrate drivers and promote the industry within the industry.
This is the second iteration of this event. The inaugural show in 2014 was a huge success, with over 10,000 visitors and more than $20,000 raised and donated to local charities.
This year’s event is shaping up to be even bigger again – Dave says they’re expecting over 300 trucks at the Show and Shine competition.
It will be held at the Wigram Airforce Museum, Christchurch on October 8. Entry to the show is by gold coin donation.
Christchurch was the host for this year’s conference, and along with putting on some stunning, if nippy weather, a number of local speakers spoke about the city with regard to both the rebuild and heavy haulage issues.
Christchurch City Council traffic engineer Steve Dejong says the earthquakes, although a disaster, provided the opportunity to rebuild the city’s roading network and solve a few issues with it.
The upshot is the network has been broken down into subsets – they have mapped out a freight network, a public transport network, a cycling network, and so on. The simple idea behind it is to prioritise different routes for different modes so freight, commuters, buses and bikes don’t have to share the same space.
Although they’re still working on how to get it efficient, Steve says the freight network will have 11 metres width where possible, no cyclists, and things like collapsible poles so large loads can get through without damaging road furniture.