After more than a decade of debate, and at some stages obfuscation, the Federal Government has finally announced that truck width limits have been lifted from 2.5 metres to 2.55 metres

The historic announcement by the Federal assistant minister for infrastructure and transport, Carol Brown, was made today after years of lobbying, discussions and delays, in what  has to be the longest debate over the shortest  dimensions. The  five centimetre difference  between Australia’s truck  width rules and those of Europe and America, has prevented many safer, new technology rich trucks from being  imported to Australia to potentially make our roads safer.

However the rule change does not cover buses or trailers, which is believed to be a concession to local bus body and trailer makers worried about being overrun by imported buses and trailers.

As far as T&B News can tell, fully built up imported buses are already capturing an increasing percentage of bus sales in Australia, while imported trailers have been tried here before, but have never been able to demonstrate any decent degree of longevity in Australian conditions. This means that Australians will still be deprived of new tech buses such as Daimler’s Mercedes Benz Citaro, which proved too expensive and difficult to comply for Australia and its relatively small volumes.

No mention has been made of any decision on changes to axle weights, which some makers have been calling for, that would better facilitator the take up of battery electric trucks.

Electric Vehicle Council chief executive Behyad Jafari said the electric vehicle industry has been calling for the change for several years. and it congratulates the government for working collaboratively with industry and other stakeholders to deliver this important change. However the lack of movement on weight limits did disappoint the electric vehicle lobby.

“We encourage the federal government to build on this announcement by introducing a mass concession (one tonne minimum) for electric trucks, and making it cheaper and attractive for Australian businesses wanting to embrace this technology. More broadly, we need a National Electric Heavy Vehicle Strategy that outlines a plan to decarbonise our heavy vehicle fleet over the long haul,” Jafari said.

The Government says it has made the changes to the national road vehicle standards to facilitate the supply of safer trucks in Australia, to help reduce road trauma while bolstering freight productivity.

The Government says it is estimated  that the changes will provide a net benefit of more than $500 million to the Australian economy.

In the announcement from Minister Brown, the Safer Freight Vehicles package includes the increase in the overall width limit from 2.50 to 2.55 metres for new trucks that are fitted with a number of safety features.

The new width rules require safety features which will include devices to reduce blind spots, electronic stability control, advanced emergency braking, a lane departure warning system, better reflective markings, and side guards to stop pedestrians and cyclists from being caught up under the rear wheels of trucks.

The Minister said that trucks fitted with these safety features will ‘save lives and prevent serious injuries to vehicle occupants, cyclists and pedestrians’.

Allowing wider trucks on our roads will also reduce the number of road freight trips businesses will need to take, saving them money and lowering their environmental impact.

Additionally, a number of safety devices and sensors will be able to be fitted to trucks without counting towards the width and length measurements including front and kerb view mirrors to better see around the front-left corner of the vehicle, external parts of camera monitor systems for improved indirect vision, blind spot sensors, and cross-view mirrors to see in front of bonneted vehicles.

The Government pointed out  that this will ensure manufacturers and owners are not disadvantaged by fitting trucks with these road safety technologies.

The changes under the Safer Freight Vehicles package will  come into effect from Sunday 1 October 2023.

Assistant minister  Carol Brown said the Safer Freight Vehicles package responds to direct calls from industry to increase the width limit of trucks and follows extensive public consultation and feedback.

“These changes will be a real game changer for industry, businesses and other road users, as they will save lives by adopting technology to reduce the likelihood of crashes, while also lowering freight costs and supporting better environmental outcomes,” Minister Brown said.

“Our truckies play a vital role in the Australian economy and our day to day lives, ensuring we can access the food, medicines and other goods we need,” she said.

“Today’s announcement will mean they can carry out their work more safely and efficiently, so they and those they share the road with can get home safe at the end of each trip,” the Minister concluded.

NHVR CEO Sal Petroccitto said the regulator had long advocated for increased harmonisation of Australian vehicle standards with global standards.

“These changes will allow manufacturers to bring their latest designs, fitted with a full suite of safety and environmental technologies, to market in Australia,” Petroccitto said.

“Several years ago, the NHVR identified current width limits as a barrier to the take up of safety technologies in our Vehicle Safety and Environmental Technology Uptake Plan (Vehicle SETUP).

“We have been working with the Commonwealth, our partners and industry to explore how we can enact change to align with international standards and promote the highest possible level of safety.

“The changes introduced by the Safer Freight Vehicles package will ensure the safest vehicles are available in Australia – helping to keep drivers, pedestrians and all road users safe,” Petroccitto added.

Petroccitto also said that the NHVR will continue to work with the National Transport Commission and Governments to reflect the new changes in the Heavy Vehicle National Law.

HVIA boss, Todd Hacking said the historic announcement is a huge step forward for the industry and HVIA’s many members who will benefit.

“HVIA has listened to its members and advocated tirelessly for this change,” he said

“Removing unnecessary roadblocks and impediments to truck safety and productivity underpins what we do, and we thank Minister Brown’s office for recognising the importance of this reform,” Hacking said.

Hacking said the change harmonises Australia’s truck width limits with many overseas markets and allows manufacturers to introduce the next generation of safer, cleaner, and more productive trucks, without needing costly re-design or re-engineering.

Truck Industry Council CEO Tony McMullan has laid claim to  some of the credit  for the changes, even though it has  taken more than a decade and three governments for the changes to be affected

 “This announcement of the Safer Freight Vehicles Package demonstrates the strong, trusted working relationship that exists between the Truck Industry Council and the Federal Government.” said  McMullan  

‘As the industry technical experts, TIC has drawn upon its members’ world-wide technological and practical knowledge to advocate for the introduction of advanced safety features, that are core elements of this Safer Freight Vehicles Package, well before they are mandated, with the result being that road users will be safer on Australian roads. 

‘All safer freight vehicles will now be equipped with lane departure warning, autonomous emergency brake systems, side under run protection, conspicuity markings and stability control,” McMullan continued. 

A spokesman  for Brisbane based truck maker Volvo Group  said  the changes  to the width rules are good news and a big step forward  for the industry, and it hopes that there will be more regulatory reform, including increased axle weights, to more easily facilitate the take up of new generation battery electric trucks.

Scania Australia’s director of truck sales, Ben Nye said that Scania welcomes the decision to implement the 50mm width expansion for new trucks as this will allow it to fit additional safety systems to its trucks, systems that have been commonplace in Europe for some time,

“A further benefit is the ability to fit low rolling resistance tyres and aero enhancing panels to drive down fuel consumption and emissions even further. We also look forward to an early ruling on front axle weight exemptions to allow more of our 100% Battery Electric Vehicles to be brought to market,” Nye said.