Major changes to the national road vehicle standards have been made that will see an increase to the overall width limit on Australian trucks.
The move anticipated for some time in parts of the industry was today announced by the Federal Government as part of what it has called a Safer Freight Vehicles package.
It is likely to have wide ranging ramifications for the industry across manufacturing, safety, productivity and new vehicle technology.
An increase of the overall width from 2.50 to 2.55 metres for new trucks, provided they are fitted with a number of safety features, is also expected to encourage the rollout of electric and hydrogen trucks from overseas.
It may also change the complexion of the strong local manufacturing market by encouraging involvement from OEMs from Europe, where the width dimensions now align with the local market.
The dimensional increases will open the door potentially for manufacturers like Tesla, whose electric Semi previously exceeded the old truck regulations by a width of 34mm.
Under the changes the overall width limit for buses and trailers, however, won’t change.
The changes are presently estimated to provide a net benefit of over $500 million to the Australian economy.
New trucks under compliance must have 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.
Additionally, a number of safety devices and sensors will be able to be fitted to trucks without counting towards the width and length measurements.
This includes 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.
This will ensure manufacturers and owners are not disadvantaged by fitting trucks with these road safety technologies.
According to Truck Industry Council CEO Tony McMullan, alignment with international market regulations for vehicle mass and dimensions, as well as safety and emission technologies are key to allowing local manufacturers and importers greater access to the latest technology and models from global markets.
“Allowing 2.55m width vehicles on Australian roads meant that these vehicles could be fitted with the latest safety technologies and importantly will result in the faster deployment of zero emission vehicles in Australia,” said McMullan.
Changes under the Safer Freight Vehicles package will begin to come into effect from 1 October 2023.
Recommendations by industry bodies to bring Australian heavy vehicle dimension to 2550mm were made as far back as 1992.
New Zealand has allowed heavy freight vehicles to operate at 2550mm without restriction since 2017.
The Safer Freight Vehicles package comes in response to direct calls from industry to increase the width limit of trucks, and follows extensive public consultation and feedback according to Federal Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Carol Brown.
“These changes will be a real gamechanger 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,” said Brown.
The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, who identified current width limits as a barrier to the uptake of safety technologies, welcomed the announcement.
NHVR CEO Sal Petroccitto OAM 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,” he said.
“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,” said Petroccitto.
“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.”
European OEMs have also welcomed the increases made to Australian truck dimensions.
A Volvo Group Australia spokesperson said it was a necessary change in rectifying a prohibitive regulatory framework.
“Volvo welcomes the development announced today. We’re naturally happy about it. The hope is that it helps to continue the conversation on steer axle weights and zero emissions trucks. It’s a good first step.”