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The road monsters are coming

By Alan Parker - posted Wednesday, 17 September 2008

My scale drawing shows 13 bicyclists along side a standard 35-metre long B-Triple. Many drivers in small cars will find passing B-Triples scary and for cyclists it is the equivalent of a terrorist attack. It would be fair to say that B-triples entering our cities (and I am thinking of Melbourne in particular here where they can enter by four routes) is a blatant disregard of cyclists legal rights to use the road. Worse still our Minister for Roads, at the last COAG meeting of transport ministers, agreed to introduce these B-Triple routes.

My scale drawing (see below) shows a standard 35-metre long B-Triple, but in some other states they are even bigger being 1.5 metres longer and weighing up to 82.5 tonnes. They will be allowed into Victoria by a Minister and Premier who say nice things about encouraging bicycle use to reduce CO2 emissions and keep people healthy. The same thing applies to Sydney.

Apart from their enormous size on our city streets another problem with B-Triples is cornering: the swept path or tracking is wider than for other vehicles. If the driver is distracted with other traffic and does not see a cyclist going past, the cyclist could be swept under the wheels. Indeed, the rear trailer could mount the kerb and wipe out a pedestrian waiting to cross the road. Bicyclists have always found trucks intimidating but imagine how much worse it will be with this B-triple. Bureaucrats obsessed with truck technology should not forget that they have a legal duty of care in regards to other road users.


Common sense tells us that there has to be a maximum size limit on the vehicles that freely mix everyday with other vehicles on designated major roads. In the region, within 100km of Melbourne, there are more than a million people who drive or ride small vehicles who have a legitimate right to feel safe on the road, no matter what the direct cost savings.

Introducing B-triple road trains in or around large cities is saying to the vulnerable road users who drive or ride in small vehicles that the law of the economic rationalist jungle prevails: the biggest vehicles and those who profit from them can rule the road with an iron fist.

Our major cities and their regional hinterlands are so different from the almost empty outback where economic necessity requires that road trains and B-Triples be used and the few people who live there choose to put up with them because they are vital to the outback economy.

Alan Parker B-Triple trucks on city streets

The need for side underrun panels on all trucks

Large trucks do not have to run into cyclists to kill to them. When there are wind gusts and strong cross winds the slipstream moves sideways in response and can suck or blow a cyclist under the wheels of a following vehicle or a roadside object: and the bigger and faster the truck the greater the risk. The number of motorcyclists killed as a result of losing control in air turbulence caused by passing fast trucks and B-doubles coming in the other direction has never been counted. However, motorcycling organisations know that this is a safety problem that over the last 10 years has killed more than a few people.

Cyclists already have to share the roads with B-doubles; it is no longer a matter of choice so there is already a danger of cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists going under the wheels of B-double trailers. There is a practical cure, however, to reduce the potential for injury and death: the fitting of side underrun panels has been standard practice on all trucks in the UK and Scandinavia for about 30 years and has saved many lives. It should be standard practice to fit side underrun panels between the wheels of all trucks in Australia.


The National Transport Commission (NTC) and agencies like VicRoads and the RACV know that side underrun panels are world best practice but they pander to the needs of the road and trucking lobbies. Before common sense prevails, we will probably have to wait until one of these B-triple monsters runs out of control down a hill over dozens of cars decapitating the occupants, or for a collision with a bus that kills every one because the 80-tonne load mangled the whole bus.

The Rudd Government is taking the reduction of CO2 emissions seriously, but the NTC has failed to mention in road freight reports that the International Energy Agency has been producing pamphlets since 1991 that show how side underrun panels and other forms of streamlining can reduce aerodynamic drag and greatly reduce CO2 emissions.

But, of course, the biggest reduction in CO2 emissions will come from making the rail freight system more efficient and able to carry more non-bulk rail freight. The place for big loads is on real trains on rail racks.

Some Australian transport Ministers have been discussing a 45-metre long 100-tonne B-Quadruple and one state government has already asked the Commonwealth for more freeway widening funds to enable it to be used

Now is the time for the pedestrian, bicycle and motor cycle associations to say they will not tolerate B-Triple trucks in or near our cities.

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About the Author

Alan Parker is the director of PEST, People for Ecologically Sustainable Transport.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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