Braking problems are among the most common and most dangerous risk for heavy vehicles. Ordinarily, brake failure can cause lethal or even fatal accidents, from skidding and hitting pedestrians to flying off the road and ramming barriers. However, in heavy vehicles, the damage can be far worse because of the required braking distance and the weight of the truck or bus. Even if the brakes are fully functional, the mass of the vehicle can still drag the wheels and chassis, causing further roadside harm.
This is why thorough brake testing is a crucial part of road safety and compliance. The NHVR (National Heavy Vehicle Regulator) issued new regulations for brake testing in the second half of 2017. These new inspection rules were laid out in the NHVIM (National Heavy Vehicle Inspection Manual). The purpose of the manual is to streamline inspection procedures so that no matter where you truck or bus is tested, safety requirements are standardised, ensuring uniform safety practices all over the nation.
Utilising RBT machines
The most effective way to test heavy vehicle braking is through a roller brake testing machine (RBT). These machines can be found at government testing centres or authorised third party centres. The mechanism of the test equipment inspects and evaluates brake efficiency by simulating road conditions while the vehicle is stationary.
The main part of the tester is a mechanical floor equipped with motors, safety sensors, brake transducers, and rollers for measuring brake performance. Computer read-outs show the force, distance, speed, and effectiveness of braking mechanisms. Of course brake testing isn’t as simple as it sounds. The results from the test have to be translated for real-world applications. Several field tests were run in August last year and they helped design the national testing procedure.
Transition in phases
As we’ve mentioned, RBT machines have two components: hardware and software. The hardware comprises the physical equipment that heavy vehicles are attached to, while the software is the computer programming that interprets the results. In order to facilitate smooth development of a nationwide procedure, the roll-out has been divided into two phases. Stage 1 involves hardware upgrades, while Stage 2 focuses on software updates.
Stage 1 was scheduled to take three months, from 1st February 2018 to 30th April 2018. During this period, all physical equipment would be brought to speed, both in government facilities and third-party testing spaces. Tests are carried out by Authorised Officers (AOs) using pre-set guidelines and steps. Stage 2 is still under development.
Earlier hiccups in roller brake testing
RBT machines were first introduced last year, after experimenting with three different testing devices. These were the Levanta, Nepea, and Maha. Initial tests were run at the heavy vehicle testing site in Marulan. Testing occurred for three days, from 14th to 17th August, and results were satisfactory. Once NHVR and its accompanying organisations were happy that safety had been fully dealt with, they announced that trucks and buses should begin applying the test to their fleets.
It turned out the decision was made before comprehensive consultations with truck industry stakeholders. While these key industry players were willing to abide by set standards and have their vehicles tested, they felt the compliance period was punitive and rushed. Through their representatives at the ATA (Australian Trucking Association), the truckers approached NHVR and requested a fairer compliance period. As a result, the period for testing and approval was extended to 31st January 2018.
Importance of written guidelines
However, it has now come to light that a patterned guideline of testing procedures is equally necessary. Without this universal structure, truckers and bus fleet owners may run their vehicles through different test centres and end up with varying levels of brake safety. The real danger here is compliant vehicles may have received less stringent testing, and as a result, experience preventable mishaps on the road.
This is why the relevant authorities – NHVR, HVIA (Heavy Vehicle Industry Australia) and RMS (Roads & Maritime Services) are taking a step by step approach to ensuring a comprehensive written guideline for roller brake testing, no matter which part of Australia the testing takes place in. Once the written template is developed, it can be applied in both government facilities and sanctioned third party centres, ensuring better road safety for heavy vehicle operators and other road users, especially as relates to braking systems.