There is a lot of talk in the news covering the confusing messages about speed tolerance over the Christmas break. I think Joe and Jane public just inadvertently had a quick insight into the tricky world of the truck driver.

The law says trucks can travel no faster than 90km/h on the open road. It’s not an easy thing to work with when cars can go up to 100km/h, and some cars only manage to achieve this in the overtaking lanes dropping back to 80km/h again when the opportunity to pass has gone.

There has been a rumour for about a year now, of increased speed limits of up to 110km/h on some roads, and yes, I would support an alignment of heavy and light vehicles’ speed limits, to promote better harmony between the road using community. The truth is that this is still a rumour and we don’t get to make the rules we only get to follow them.

In the mean time, we need to be clear on what the rules are, because there is a few different things going on.

  • The heavy vehicle speed limit is 90km/h
  • HPMV have zero tolerance for overspeeds, but anecdotal evidence suggests that this is not enforced any more rigorously than for any other truck
  • Other heavy trucks may be treated to a discretionary tolerance of up to 5km/h by the police, but this depends on each circumstance. It also brings another question: Does that mean that 95km/h is ok or 96km/h is ok? It doesn’t really matter, does it?

When driving, your speedo is your primary way of checking your speed. This is good as most speedos will tell you that you are going faster than you actually are. So if you think you are driving to the speed limit, you are probably 1-2km/h just below it– perfect!

Extra confusion starts though when your manager comes to you with the GPS records from your travels. GPS is much more accurate than your speedo to know how fast you are travelling. Those of you with a TomTom on the windscreen will have noticed that it is normally reading a bit slower than your speedo. Haven’t got a TomTom? Use the “Your Speed” signs on the side of the road. These will read the same as a police speed radar.

Whilst the police can’t be everywhere, GPS can.  BUT, despite your manager telling you there is a zero tolerance for speed in his (or her) company, you will often be able to drive a bit over the speed limit and you won’t hear anything out of your manager. Why is that?

Some GPS systems do not even start to report speed events until 94, 95, 96km/h (depending on the system), whereas others as soon as you are at 91km/h, boom! alert! and your manager is at the door waiting for you when you get home.

Just like those grumpy car drivers over Christmas, the best way to avoid all of this confusion is to drive no faster than 90km/h on your speedo, giving you a true road speed of about 88 or 89km/h, safely inside the law and whatever policy your boss and his funky GPS tools will clock you for. Yes you will use a bit more fuel going uphill without a good downhill runup, and yes, a few car drivers will get irritable, but you are a professional with a precious cargo, an expensive rig and many more hours experience than them.

Think about this:

  • If there was a long flat piece of road 350kms long, with no towns along the way and you could maintain an AVERAGE SPEED of 95km/h including all corners and traffic lights, stray dogs and pie stops, you would arrive at the end 12 minutes faster than if you had an average speed of 90km/h
  • That piece of road doesn’t exist – you can’t drive 350 km at a constant top speed anywhere in the country.
  • No truck can maintain an average speed of anywhere near 90km/h

So the story is that speeding doesn’t get you there sooner.

Here is what we have seen over the last several years looking at GPS data:

  • Those who drive faster, often have a lower average speed, taking longer to do the same stretch of road. Don’t believe me? Talk to a driver trainer near you.

I can’t tell you what combination of engine brakes, retarder, gear selection or manual vs auto in any given truck on any given hill, that’s not my job. What I do know is that when you speed, you use more fuel, jeopardise your employer’s reputation, their Operator Rating Score and potentially gain demerit points on your license which will affect your ability to do your job.

Speeding doesn’t save time, it doesn’t protect the engine from undue wear and tear and it is not an excuse for allowing the truck to over run going down hill to save fuel. If you don’t know how to keep your truck below 90km/h, ask for some training. It’s time we stopped taking advantage of the tolerance and drive to the law. That way if the police or your employer provide you with any lee way, it is for a valid one off events.

Your employer is under pressure to demonstrate best practice in Health and Safety in 2015, with a lot of strict new legislation being introduced. What gives you the right to decide whether his company is closed down or not, because you choose to be unprofessional?

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