Nationally, heavy vehicles make up just 4% of the total vehicle fleet and 7% of the kilometres travelled. But around 20% of road deaths come from crashes involving trucks – which is not to say they’re responsible for all those crashes but it’s clear we need to improve the safety of trucks.

That was more evident than ever late last year when almost one in five trucks were found to be unroadworthy, highlighting we need a lot more enforcement, and that’s all based on our current standards which aren’t anywhere near what they could be.

The place probably doing the most on truck safety right now is London, who just last week they started enforcing some strict new standards. Those new standards focus on driver visibility and they’ve created a star safety rating system for trucks.

The Direct Vision Standard measures how much an HGV driver can see directly through their cab windows. This indicates the level of risk to vulnerable road users, such as people walking and cycling, near the vehicle.

The Direct Vision Standard and HGV safety permit for HGVs is part of the Mayor of London’s Vision Zero plan to eliminate all deaths and serious injuries on London’s transport network by 2041.

The standard requires cabs lower to the ground with larger windscreens as well as side windows/doors to help remove blind spots.

Trucks with a zero safety rating can still drive as long as they’ve got a permit, which requires they be upgraded with the safety features listed below. That minimum rating will also increase from one star to three stars in 2024.

To improve indirect vision, and help drivers see near the vehicle

  • Class V and VI mirrors
  • A fully operational camera monitoring system
  • A sensor system with driver alerts

To warn road users of intended manoeuvres

  • An audible vehicle manoeuvring warning for left turns (or right turns if the vehicle is left-hand drive)
  • Warning signage

To minimise the physical impact of a hazard

  • Side-underrun protection

Fines for not complying with the new standards are £550 ($1,065), or £275 ($533) if it is paid within 14 days.

In New Zealand we don’t yet even require cheap and proven safety measures like side-underrun protection, which can cost less than $1,000 and make a meaningful impact on safety. Meanwhile those lower driving cabs would also make it easier for drivers and result in fewer injuries.

New Zealand needs to introduce something similar to push up the standards of our trucks. These kinds of measures were raised in a reference group in the lead up to the government adopting their Road to Zero safety strategy but I’m not sure if it’s on the agenda to do anything about.

A concrete truck that complies with London’s new Direct Vision Standard

If the government were to mandate changes, the changing our heavy vehicle fleet is not going to be cheap or easy, especially as we can likely assume strong opposition from the trucking lobby from the additional costs their members would incur. The video above notes how these new trucks are more expensive to purchase. But what if we’re needing to change our trucks anyway?

In addition to improving safety we also need to address is climate change and when it comes to trucks there are fewer alternatives than there are for private vehicle trips. Sure we can move some long distance freight to rail and some some shorter distance and smaller deliveries to things like cargo-bikes or other small electric vehicles, but for most freight trips we’ll still need trucks. That means to meet our climate objectives the only real option is going to be a new fleet of electric trucks (or other zero emissions technology).

I’m sure many of the bigger trucking companies are already starting to look at options for replacing their fleets with electric vehicles. So if we’re going to be replacing our heavy vehicle fleet with electric versions, what better time to also incorporate all the enhanced safety features the London standard requires. There’ll certainly be a lot more resistance to them if the government were to introduce new requirements just after companies have replaced their fleets.

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75 comments

  1. The cost to a trucking company might be more, and opposition stems from the fact that the costs of injury and death at present are externalised to society.

  2. Engineering a truck cab to have better visibility is only going to be more difficult (and thus more expensive) if it has to also accommodate an internal combustion engine. If the engine is disappearing anyway then there shouldn’t be a significant cost difference in cab design. So the transition to electric is the perfect time to introduce new regulations (and how about some regulations incentivizing electrification while they’re at it?).

  3. Only the hardware change isn’t enough, the problem is the software!
    Hardware: The Vehicle
    Software: Driving Attitude

    NZ probably the only outdated country allow heavy vehicle (truck etc) to drive on the fastest right hand lane on Motorway. If we go to Europe, let say Estonia, there, on Motorway, all heavy vehicle MUST drive in the left hand lane unless left hand lane is closed. In Australia, same, even in Hong Kong, this outdated city in the minds of NZer, adopt same rules!

    Why can’t great NZer review and adopt this simple rules, almost no cost than so call hardware improvement??!

    When a heavy vehicle is driving on the fastest right hand lane, accident will be fatal: Speed!
    Reason why, follow what’s others, NZ isn’t better!

    1. Why don’t we take a driver’s choice to speed out of the equation and simply limit trucks to 80kph? (And by that I mean physically limited, not just legally).

      1. Sadly we also need to ensure they are driving safely in areas that have lower limits too. Our street is used as a rat run by the refuge collection trucks and they go way too fast for a residential area.
        We also have issues with trucks associated with the infil housing- the pavement on one side of the road is closed to pedestrians due to the construction, the opposite path is ripped up due to truck parking to offload materials.
        Consideration from the truck drivers for the neighbourhoods they are driving through and the companies that push them to race between locations is needed.

        1. And enforcement against drivers that park on footpaths and employers that leave them with little choice.

      2. n the early 90’s in Europe the heavy vehicles had computer logging on hard disc and was driver specific. This was able to be reviewed by law enforcement which recorded the speeds and hours driven and was the basis of enforcement.. The introduction of this to NZ/Australia was strenuously opposed but there is no reason that it should not be available now.
        T there are so many good features of this that I wonder that it has not been looked at again.

    2. Those laws are more about traffic flow, motorways are extremely safe compared to other roads.

      We do have perfectly good laws to cover this situation, they just need to be enforced. Trucks have a speed limit and all vehicles have to keep left unless overtaking, the only reason for a truck to be in the outside lane is if it is passing a slower truck.

      1. “all vehicles have to keep left unless overtaking” → not on motorways. Although people seem to stick to this rule on rural expressways.

        The difference in driving style on motorways between “keep left unless overtaking” and “pick whatever lane” is almost as obvious as the difference between left hand drive and right hand drive. We absolutely, for 100% sure, definitely, have the latter over here.

        You also design the motorways differently. If you have a keep left rule, the left lane is usually the busiest lane. So when the motorway goes from 3 lanes to 2 lanes, it will always be the right lane which ends. However here we use a different rule so the left lane ends. Even if they want to enforce the keep left rule they can’t because the motorways are laid out in the wrong way.

        1. Yes on motorways Roeland. The keep left law applies on all roads including motorways!
          The problem in NZ is that a) the police don’t enforce it. b) the public ignore it because of (a) and because of lack of education/signage.

        2. This law applies to all roads in NZ including motorways. I agree though that our motorways have been engineered to make following this law more difficult.

          One difference with NZ compared with many European countries is that you are allowed to undertake here ie. use the left lane to go past someone who is in the right lane and going slower than you.

        3. you are allowed to undertake → and here we go.

          These two rules come in pairs:

          1) Keep left unless passing, and undertaking is forbidden.
          2) Pick whatever lane, undertaking is allowed.

          I can’t tell for sure but I don’t think you can mix those rules. In (1) the no undertaking rule means you have to give way to people coming back into the outside (slow) lane.

          Sure the road code tells you to keep left. The actual road design and the way everyone drives say nope.

        4. “So when the motorway goes from 3 lanes to 2 lanes, it will always be the right lane which ends.” Not absolutely true. Four cases I can think of immediately on SH1 are Mt Wellington interchange northbound both directions climbing the Bombay Hill and north of the Sunset Rd overbridge. No doubt there others.

        5. LHD / RHD, is irrelevant. In NZ, there is no prohibition for undertaking when on a multilane road.

          There is the rule that you keep left unless overtaking, but undertaking is not actually prohibited.

          In the UK and in Germany, undertaking on a multilane road is prohibited and people are strongly taught that you must never ever block the outside lane. There is no such culture in NZ, and in fact no such rule.

    3. I’m guessing you’ve not driven much in Europe then. I’m frequently blocked by rolling roadblocks of trucks in the UK, Ireland, Spain, France and Germany when driving in the fastest lane.

  4. This is great. The thing that worries me is the amount of power the trucking lobby wields in the beehive against anything that would be progressive.

  5. We already have Section 36(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 that covers this.

    “A PCBU must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the health and safety of other persons is not put at risk from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking.”.

    – Side-underrun protection is reasonably practicable.
    – Better mirrors are reasonably practicable.
    – Cameras are reasonably practicable.
    – Sensor system is reasonably practicable.

    We just need some enforcement from Worksafe

    1. Commercial driving (including trucking) is the most dangerous work activity in NZ but WorkSafe doesn’t consider it their job to do anything about it. This is unfortunate because WorkSafe approach incident investigation with the right attitude (proper root cause analysis, looking at how systems and processes may have failed to prevent the incident etc.).

      Commercial driving safety is seen as a traffic policing issue but it shouldn’t be. The Police just look for someone to blame, fine / prosecute them and move on. However this doesn’t do anything to address systemic issues that contribute to incidents.

    2. Worksafe also does not consider uber and courier drivers or truckers parking on footpaths, cycle lanes or crossings to be anything to do with them (“that’s for the police”) despite it clearly being in the logical remit of workplace H&S.

      After all, these are actions taken by a driver at work, often EXPLICTLY because their bosses and work practices make it hard for them to do anything else (sites aren’t set up properly for deliveries, drivers are under extreme time pressure etc).

  6. The best thing to do here would be to signal a change in the future (e.g. we will be moving to these standards in 5 years time). This means anyone buying a new truck finds the extra cost is more like an investment than something being forced on them.

    1. Unfortunately NZ tends to grandparent safety improvements so if a vehicle is registered before a cut-off date you don’t have to bother. That becomes a incentive to not upgrade at all. So I agree, set a time of 5 years beyond which the vehicle can’t be used in areas with speed limits of 50km/h or lower.

  7. The first use of Electric trucks will be on fixed routes as it will be much easier to organise. Knowing where the truck will be at any point on any day and how many kilometres it will do on any day and where it can be charged. So something like a rubbish truck or town delivery. I expect electric buses would be similar.
    For something like container delivery or a tip truck this will be very much harder as every day will be different. A lot of thought will have to go into the purchase of any electric truck. Or any electric vehicle for that matter. I recently heard of someone who purchased a Nissan Leaf only to find they couldn’t do a return trip to the Airport without having to charge it. Obviously the wrong vehicle they needed one with more range.

    1. Agree, although I think a large proportion of trucks would meet that category of having a relatively predictable number of kilometres each day even if the route isn’t exactly the same.

      The others would stay diesel for longer but would ultimately have to figure out a way of electrifying as the diesel supply chain dried up.

      1. A lot of long haul trucks do the same inter-city run every single day. These could very easily be electrified if the range is sufficient and an appropriate charging or battery swap location was provided

        1. Perhaps charging stations like the current petrol stations – and with the accompanying shops and toilets so truck drivers can have proper rest breaks while their vehicles recharge?

  8. Great post. We definitely need Better Trucks. Also: we need Smaller Trucks in the city. Big trucks may (note: may) make sense on the State Highways, but they are ridiculous and dangerous when they are moving through city streets. Kenworth style trucks especially: the nose is made for highway hauling, but in close traffic, the driver can see little at close quarters. They need to be banned from city streets.

    1. Length of trucks in urban areas is an annoying issue. Just another example of externalized costs to the public. It’d be fine if they had good infrastructure with appropriate lengths for their trucks, but they often use much longer vehicles than was originally intended. Or just park on on the road, or in the median in order to deliver stuff.

      https://imgur.com/a/vYdG6fy

      This is the standard operation for coundown onehunga, more than once I’ve seen a mobility scooter get to the truck, the driver shrug, and the scooter have to go back to the lights and take a different route.

    2. The increased gross weight vehicles were meant to have limted routes (I understood). it seems as tho as long as you pay road user charges you now drive any vehicle anywhere.
      up till a
      the late 70’s the roads were classified and the gross weight of a vehicle was limited on many routes because of the road formation. That changed again with the advent of the RUC so that you eventually drove anything anywhere. the local authorities were left with fast deteriorating carriageways and little extra central Govt support to rectify the problem. This all happened about the time of the deregulation of the Road transport and the ability to compete with rail. The local authorities have been trying to catch up ever since.
      It is interesting to see the problems created by multi axled compactor waste collection trucks and the way they damage some of the cul-de-sacs. The expense some councils have gone to to hotmix intersections to try and reduce the chip being torn out.
      The cities that are built on a peat substrate are not catching up even now.

  9. Well designed Side-underrun protection on a truck should reduce aerodynamic drag and pay for itself very quickly.

  10. None of this fluff solves the basic physics. In a collision, the larger vehicle wins.

    Making the windscreen larger does not solve the 20% figure

    The only solution is replacing existing goat tracks with properly suitable roads on major trucking routes

    1. You don’t need to solve the basic physics if you prevent the collision in the first place! Better cab visibility prevents collision and side underrun protection reduces trauma where collisions do occur.

      1. That’s my point. Prevent the collision by building proper roads

        How many Waipu logging truck fatalities in the last ten years would have been prevented by a marginally larger windshield? Zero

        How many would have been prevented by a grade separated highway? All of them

        1. You appear to be unable to differentiate between the risk of a collision between a truck and either a pedestrian in urban areas and the risk of a collision between a truck and another vehicle on the open road.

          Start by getting your head around that.

        2. This blog is concentrating heavily on the infrastructure safety side, but not every article is about that.

          And you are making an example of a specific issue of rural forestry trucks, when we are (at least in large part) talking about the urban truck safety issues.

          Strawmen, by the way, tend to have very bad sightlines, because their eyes tend to be buttons.

        3. Uhhhhh, the post is talking abut urban areas. The safety of which would be improved with better visibility in vehicles.

          I agree though the safety needs to be improved on rural highways. The most safety for money would be to halt all major grade separated motorway extensions and instead put that money into barriers and rope fences. We after all don’t have unlimited resources for infrastructure so therefore we should save as many lives with the money we have.

  11. NZTA doesn’t have the capacity for regulating this.
    Nor do they have future funding for it.
    They are barely keeping up with Warrant Of Fitness operator certifications, and faulty welds on trailers.

    They need to catch up just with the basics.

    1. So basically, this allows the logistics industry to continue to externalise the costs, via the odd dead person. Great.

      If you don’t have the money for a needed fix, you increase taxes or fees. Yes, they will how (even though they can just hand it on with their fees – its a level playing field, assuming authorities inspect everyone equally).

  12. You forgot to mention the emission standards for trucks and commercial vehicles are very low, compared to cars.

    It only takes one polluting truck to offset to saving of ten clean cars.

    I would suggest the government can create an financial incentive package to replace the older high emission trucks with newer Euro VI trucks.

  13. Years ago the rail freight industry was forced to make safety it’s number one priority, this increased the cost and resulted in a modal shift away to the more unsafe road freight industry. The equalisation in a focus on safety is long overdue, hopefully resulting in a modal shift back towards rail.

  14. The whole glass thing needs to disappear. Trucks and cars. Make a safe vehicle with no glass, and use cameras and video monitors for human input driving

    In most crashes the glass is an issue, from fragments, to an “hole” in the safety cell design

    Imagine a truck (tractor) with no glass requirement. Human can be comfortably “packed” in a safe location, with no glass. External surface of truck can be 100% designed to mitigate crash damage to people and property, as no glass view is required

    Driving is much easier and safer as you get a 360 degree 100% non-unobstructed view from ground level to top of truck height, with potential to augment with safety markers (like you get on your reversing camera etc)

    Surely this will also be cheaper than making trucks with large glass spans?

    1. We could invent some new vehicle like that and sit on our hands for the next ten years while it is being developed, or we could use the existing technology we have available right now, while also inventing that.

      1. Fitting large glass is a major engineering project and may require complete redesigns. Glass is not a good thing for people inside or outside in a collisions either
        Adding some cameras to the extremities of truck, an on-board computer and a VR screen is a retrofit

    2. This would almost certainly be less safe for other road users because of offsetting behaviour: When people perceive the risk to themselves is reduced they compensate by taking more risks. A vehicle where the driver was safe from all major impacts would be like driving a tank and drivers would act accordingly.

      1. Tanks,

        When I asked myself why people are trying to win the vehicular arms race with SUV’s when a tank is clearly the answer, it turned out the M1A1 Abrams is currently unavailable on the civilian market.

        https://www.quora.com/Can-a-civilian-buy-an-M1A1-Abrams-tank-for-their-own-use-to-drive-on-the-road-or-something

        Tractors are permissible however, Chelsea or otherwise.Kubota for the win.

        https://www.mightyape.co.nz/product/kubota-m135gx-front-loader-with-trailer/28220770?gclid=Cj0KCQiA1pyCBhCtARIsAHaY_5fcY6AMv0rtEqEkUEiydmlOVu5ICmVZ9VJ6EWyELVNzdz6HvJlRUDUaAlPpEALw_wcB

        On the subject of Trucks, drivers and visibility; I’m quite a fan of the Unimog.

        https://www.mercedes-benz-trucks.com/en_NZ/models/unimog-off-road-4000-5000/comfort/cab.html

        Fun Fact : Apparently the NZ Army used to take these on road trips.Perhaps they still do but these predated the March of the Beancounters.

        Say it with a touch of French and it smiles, although it also frowns, weeps and makes angry faces.

        [ Lictionary Definition ]

        Say it with a touch of French and it smiles, although it also frowns, weeps and makes angry faces.

        Un-i-mo-G : An imo G [ noun ]
        ** not to be confused with An Emoji which tends to cause deep irritation.In the case of deep irritation, seek professional help; do not buy an SUV.

        KaSr,
        L

      2. I don’t know your area of science to why you have knocked this down so quickly? Think about a VR ride at the fair. You, with nothing in front except for a large 180 degree image of the road and objects in front, it’s actually very scary. The realism can be dialled in to suit the road, conditions, and speed
        Also with augmented tech it can make things like people appear more defined and obvious

    1. Is this the same Lake Road where the local board voted to oppose the improvements that would have made cycling less dangerous too?

      1. AT agreed to go ahead with them anyway despite the opposition. Reports are truck was turning left into Montgomery Ave so entirely relevant to this post

        1. I’m really glad to hear that AT are pushing on. It’s tragic to hear of such a wasteful loss of life and frustrating to hear it referred to as an accident.

    2. Yeah well lots of parents would like to stop driving our kids around and let them cycle places, but well…

  15. We don’t have WOF emissions testing for any road vehicles (NOx, CO, P2.5, HCs) which other countries have had for 30-40 years.
    If we can’t do this I don’t see much chance of a sudden improvement in other requirements.

  16. The Government is not going to mandate the replacement of the NZ heavy transport fleet with EV’s. They know only too well that A. NZ cannot afford this and B. There are not enough BEV’s or HFC’s available to make that transition.
    Most of the fleet has a 30 year expected life span and to try and ask independent (often small family operators) to both raise the Capex and sacrifice asset value is impossible. The existing fleet will be managed in other ways, with the expectation that replacements, when due, will be BEV or HFC or Synthetic fueled.
    Both the Climate Change Commission and the MOT reports are very clear on this.
    Of course, many of the safety improvements could be and should be implemented through retro fits.

    1. Really: a 30 year life span for heavy trucks? Shoulda listened to climate science a while ago, eh?

      1. It is the same situation with our busses. Also, it is all well and good saying that we should use BEV’s, but they are not available as of today and NZ is still making electricity from coal (thankfully a lot less than China and the US).
        Existing heavy transport and this includes trucks, busses, rail and the ferries that run on diesel, will all need to use drop in synthetic fuels for many years to come.

        1. Dan. AT are mandating no more diesel buses from a few years from now and 85% of NZ’s electricity is already renewable so I think you’re being very pessimistic. BEV buses are already operating on the AT network

      2. At least 30 years. I’ve personally driven much older models working on a farm, some old models from the early 70s. It’s all the big players that buy the new trucks all the time. But small operations, they buy one second hand 20 years old, and buying another much earlier than budgeted would legit break the business.

  17. This is a great initiative. Also yes, for NZ why not tie it in with the timing for when firms are now looking at replacing their fleets with electric vehicles.

  18. Mark Mitchell was on NBR yesterday questioning the billion-dollar-a-year subsidy for Kiwirail, mainly whether taxpayers got the required benefits, or bang for their buck.

    I have not yet watched it in detail yet, and the article summary did say he referred to “the need for a rail network”. But it did start to smell a bit like more money should be put into roading because most freight is by trucks.

  19. It was put to him the comments of the Kiwirail CEO who said the government was spending 4bn on road maintenance alone. I think he then mentioned road user charges etc etc…

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