By Candice Marcus | January 12, 2015
Truck drivers from across Australia may soon have to prove they are capable of using the South Eastern Freeway into Adelaide under recommendations proposed by the coroner.
An inquest in the coroner’s court has delivered its findings into two fatal accidents at the bottom of the freeway in 2010 and 2014.
They included the death of 41-year-old truck driver James Venning, who died when he slammed into a wall at the intersection of Cross Road and Glen Osmond Road at the beginning of the freeway in January 2014.
The findings also examined the death of 42-year-old truck driver John Posnakidis, who was waiting at a bus stop for assistance when he was killed by an out-of-control semi-trailer that ploughed into him near the same intersection in October 2010.
Deputy state coroner Anthony Schapel made a series of recommendations, including that all truck drivers in South Australia and interstate be given specific training on using the down track of the South Eastern Freeway.
He also recommended tougher penalties, including jail, for drivers who do not use the correct gear during the descent and who do not use arrester beds when their truck is out of control.
If Mr Walsh knew about the safety ramps why he did not use the second of them is beyond the comprehension of this court. Deputy state coroner Anthony Schapel
“In the opinion of the court, such behaviour in and of itself should attract a significant licence disqualification, and in serious cases, even imprisonment,” Mr Schapel said.
State Transport Minister Stephen Mullighan said the Government would consider the recommendations and was already reviewing the safety of the freeway.
“I support the notion that we need to ramp up those offences, but we need to talk to the police, the Police Minister and the Attorney-General about what’s appropriate,” he said.
Mr Posnakidis’ family has urged the Government to take the recommendations seriously.
The inquest found both truck drivers had failed to select an appropriate low gear and wore out their brakes coming down the hill.
The drivers failed to use either of two safety ramps on the down section of the freeway, one immediately before the Heyson Tunnels and the other near the Mount Osmond overpass about 1.4 kilometres from the intersection.
Mr Schapel said it was clear that existing penalties were inadequate.
“Coasting and riding the brakes might only be issued with an expiation notice in respect of that behaviour and that would only attract a fine of $334 and three demerit points,” he said.
“To my mind, having regard to the danger such driving behaviour imposes on the public, this would represent a wholly disproportionate prosecutorial response to such an offence, particularly if the offence occurred on the South Eastern Freeway.”
Lower speed limits will apply on the down track of the South Eastern Freeway into Adelaide from September 1. PHOTO: Signs for lower speed limits were erected on the South Eastern Freeway in the Adelaide Hills last year. (ABC News: Alina Eacott)
Inexperience led to 2010 crash: Schapel
The 2010 semi-trailer was driven by inexperienced Victorian truck driver Daniel Walsh.
Daniel Walsh leaving court PHOTO: Daniel Walsh leaving court during the inquest in December 2013. (ABC News: Loukas Founten) The court heard that other truck drivers had radioed Mr Walsh to tell him to stop using his brakes because they were smoking, and to use the arrester bed.
Mr Schapel said he could not understand why Mr Walsh did not use the safety ramp.
“If Mr Walsh knew about the safety ramps why he did not use the second of them is beyond the comprehension of this court,” he said.
“As I say, to my mind an excuse that might be provided by the agony of the moment would be a lame one.”
Mr Walsh was initially charged with causing death and serious harm by dangerous driving but later had his charges downgraded to aggravated counts of driving without due care and was given a suspended prison sentence and a fine.
The court found that Mr Walsh was under too much pressure to meet a deadline to deliver his load to Port Adelaide and was fatigued because he had not had the required amount of rest.
He had only had “approximately” four-and-a-half to five hours’ sleep between 6:00am (ACDT) on Sunday October 10 and 8:40am Tuesday October 12.
The safety ramp is not utilised when it could and should have been, having regard to Mr Venning’s speed and lack of control at that point.
Deputy state coroner Anthony Schapel “I find that Mr Walsh’s inability to select an appropriate gear for the descent on the South Eastern Freeway was at least in part due to inexperience and a lack of proper familiarity with both the gearbox in question and the features of the freeway,” Mr Schapel said.
“I have also found that Mr Walsh failed to take the appropriate number of hours rest within the 24-hour period prior to the accident.”
The inquest heard that Mr Walsh had driven down the South Eastern Freeway twice in the week leading up to the fatal incident, but had never been on the freeway before those consecutive trips.
Mr Venning’s brake lights ‘clearly illuminated’
The fatal crash involving the other truck driver, Mr Venning, was captured on CCTV and showed him narrowly missing other cars at the intersection.
He was delivering a trailer of potatoes to Virginia, north of Adelaide, at the time of the crash and the court heard it was believed he had never driven an articulated heavy vehicle down the freeway.
He was travelling under the 60 kilometres per hour speed limit at the start of the down track but rapidly gained speed as he came out of the Heyson Tunnels and reached 148kph shortly before he crashed into a wall at the intersection.
Mr Schapel said the brake lights of Mr Venning’s truck were clearly illuminated in all the footage taken.
“Mr Venning appears to have been oblivious to the presence of the safety ramp or its purpose,” he said.
“Be that as it may, the safety ramp is not utilised when it could and should have been, having regard to Mr Venning’s speed and lack of control at that point.”
Another fatal truck roll-over involving at least three cars at the same intersection occured in August last year.
Emergency services clean up truck crash PHOTO: Emergency services clean up the site of a more recent fatal truck roll-over involving at least three cars at the start of the South Eastern Freeway in August 2014. (ABC)
The coroner’s recommendations include:
- Tougher penalties, including jail, be enforced on drivers who do not use a safety ramp when their truck is out of control
- A truck driver who exceeds speed limit of 60kph on the down stretch of the freeway automatically be charged with dangerous driving
- Owners or companies employing drivers compensate victims and their families for crashes involving heavy vehicles
- Truck drivers get compulsory training about driving downhill and using arrester beds
- Trainee drivers should undergo specific tuition in relation to the required manner of driving on the descent of the South Eastern Freeway
- A truck driver must be supervised when driving down the South Eastern Freeway for the first time and the accompanying driver must have demonstrated experience and competence on that down-track
- No heavy vehicle licence of any kind should be issued to any person in Australia unless they have demonstrated competence in the safe negotiation of the decent on the South Eastern Freeway
- Speed limit for heavy vehicles be reduced to 40km/h on the down track
- Improved signage, including informing drivers that heavy penalties apply if trucks and buses do not use low gear
- Promote arrester bed use
- Roadworthiness and maintenance be brought within the chain of responsibility regime with the Heavy Vehicle National Law (South Australia) Act 2013 and be undertaken nationally
- All heavy vehicles be subjected to a periodic and frequent inspection regime
- Investigating the capability of technology to detect the speed of a heavy vehicle and tell a driver that their speed is excessive and they needed to use a safety ramp
- Consideration given to the creation of an area situated between the Heysen Tunnels and the second arrester bed to be used for Consideration be given to the creation of an area situated between the Heysen Tunnels and the second arrester bed to be used for the mandatory stopping of all heavy vehicles with a further requirement that if the vehicle is incapable of stopping at that area, the driver must use the second safety ramp.