The truck industry has demanded a cash injection of more than $12 million from the government for road safety, as industry leaders concede there is a "problem" with truck deaths and slow uptake of safer vehicles.
The Australian Trucking Association has called for the formation of a National Road Safety Commission, and says the Australian Transport Safety Bureau should take over responsibility for investigating truck accidents.
The government should spend another $8 million over the next four years on safety initiatives for heavy vehicles, the association argues in a pre-budget submission, as well as giving an extra $4.3 million to the ATSB.
Separately, the Truck Industry Council told the government it could save four lives a year by subsidising the modernisation of Australian truck fleets.
It follows Fairfax Media's revelation that truck deaths in NSW soared by 86 per cent last year, from 29 to 54, accounting for nearly 50 per cent of all deaths involving articulated trucks in Australia. Deaths in other states decreased.
"We've come a long way but we still have a long way to go," said the trucking association chief-of-staff Bill McKinley. "As long as a single person is killed in an accident involving a heavy vehicle, yes, there's a problem."
Currently, fatal truck crashes are investigated by state coroners, a process that may take years. Under the truckers' proposal, serious truck accidents would be investigated by the ATSB, which is accustomed to making preliminary findings about aviation, rail and maritime incidents in just a month. There should also be a public, national database of coronial recommendations, the ATA urged.
It also recommended the government take over management of the Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiatives program and to inject an extra $2 million a year to fund practical safety measures.
Mr McKinley acknowledged there was also a role for the industry to play in curbing excessive overtime and drug-taking by truck drivers. He said a new national regime to commence in July - backed by the industry - would impose tougher regulations and penalties.
"I'm not saying it doesn't happen, I am saying there is a strong push to stamp it out," Mr McKinley said. "Driver fatigue is a serious problem and companies have very stringent obligations to manage it."
Anthony McMullan, chief executive of the Truck Industry Council, proposed a series of offsets - up to 50 per cent - for fleet operators to purchase newer, environmentally sound and safer trucks.
According to his analysis, the safety features of new trucks - including lane assistance, electronic stability control and underrun protection systems - could save about four lives a year, based on factors contributing to previous fatalities.
"The uptake of these [new] vehicles isn't as high as what one would expect or hope for. There is a problem there," Mr McMullan said.
"It's not to say that [older] vehicles aren't safe. A truck properly maintained is safe. It's just that newer trucks have newer technologies and we should be trying to encourage the uptake of these newer technologies on to our road network."