“Without trucks, Australia stops” is now a fact of modern life. But when all costs are considered, road freight is an expensive way of moving large amounts of freight. And, as shown by ongoing fatal crashes involving large trucks, road freight can also be dangerous.
The main beneficiaries of road freight are not the truck drivers who work hard in a dangerous occupation, but the companies that choose to consign large quantities of freight by road. Road freight has seen strong growth, in part, due to good service levels and major road improvements that include highways with dual carriageways and concrete pavements, climbing lanes, and town bypasses. Over the past 25 years, road upgrades have allowed for the introduction of larger trucks such as B-doubles.
At the same time underinvestment in rail tracks that support rail freight, along with different standards of cost recovery for heavy truck access to roads (arguably low) and freight trains to rail tracks (often full user pays), has skewed the market.
In addition, the road freight industry is under-regulated while the rail freight industry is over-regulated. These factors together mean more loads are placed on roads with more pressure on truck drivers.
As well, recent investigations have found that certain truck operators have been prepared to cut maintenance and/or tamper with speed limiters.