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Faces of Transport with Adam Gibson

You would be hard pressed to find anyone more passionate about transport safety in Australia than Adam Gibson.

As a Transport and Risk Engineer, Adam spends his days pouring over transport safety research and advocating for the local industry, loving every single second of it!

“It really is an exciting time in Australia at the moment, we are making significant safety advancements and this gives us the opportunity to rewrite the somewhat negative narrative there is out there around trucks, it is a chance to change perception and educate the public.”

And through his work, Adam is definitely leading the way in starting and encouraging the right conversations.

As a young child, Adam loved to dismantle and reassemble anything he could get his hands on, and so when it came time to choosing a career path, mechanical engineering (vehicle and automotive) made a whole lot of sense.

From there, fate led Adam down the path of heavy vehicles.

“Engineering is always at its best when things are either very, very small or very, very big. And since there are no microscopic cars running around, I ventured into trucks!

As a heavy vehicle consultant engineer during the coal seam gas boom Adam found himself working with the regulatory bodies.

“In many ways I acted as a translator, taking what the industry believed to be how we could do things safely and productively, and trying to take public servants on that journey and explain that just because something is different or larger doesn't mean it’s bad or unsafe, and that it often can be a safer way of doing things.”

“At times, we would find ourselves writing the regulations for the public servants, because some of the stuff that we were working on - these large pieces of mining haulage equipment and 50 metre long drilling rigs - had never come into the country before, so we’d help them write the rulebook and then we’d help them apply those rules to get our customers’ equipment on the road.”

When the announcement was made that a National Heavy Vehicle Regulator was to be formed and based in Adam’s home town of Brisbane, he was excited by the prospect. In his view, the state by state regulation was strangling the industry, killing productivity and simply not delivering in terms of safety. He set to work immediately to secure employment.

For two and a half years, Adam led the roadworthy programme looking at how rationality could be brought into the space. He spent time reviewing lights and reflectors but it became obvious to him, that while of course trucks needed to be maintained, the real causes of harm was far more complex and tended to be human in origin.

After a stint at Penske Commercial Vehicles, Adam realised he still had some unfinished business in the safety space.

Determined to make a difference, he looked around for other opportunities and was offered a role with National Transport Insurance.

“It’s a dream job—it really is—to talk with operators to understand what matters to them and what keeps them awake at night, and be able to then talk to technology providers and say, look, I like this particular technology, but it doesn't address this need for the industry so come back when it does.

“It’s just an amazing position to be in and it’s been eye opening. It has certainly confirmed to me that when it comes to transport safety, Australia is a world leader.

It is a message Adam is keen to share with anyone and everyone willing to listen.

“One of my most recent research projects, revealed that based on current trends, we should see zero heavy vehicle-involved fatalities in Australia, possibly as soon as 2032, which is only 13 years away.

“This would be the first time we would have zero heavy vehicle-involved fatalities in about 120 years. It’s testament to the amazing work the transport industry has done to drive safety outcomes.

“Out of all my work, this finding has been the most queried and challenged, with many believing we can't possibly get to zero.

“But it is totally possible, and data doesn’t lie, and so it is exciting that we have the opportunity to work with industry, so that everyone gets home safe at the end of the day, and so in my mind, I’ve got the best job in the world.

Adam’s analysis of the 2018 data revealed Australia recorded 0.78 heavy vehicle-involved fatalities per a billion tonne-kilometres, compared to France at 3.5, Germany and the UK at 2.5 with the US at the 2.2 mark.

“There is this perception from people outside of the transport industry that we're somehow underperforming and that trucks are evil or dangerous in some way and it is completely unfounded.

“The Australian road and transport industry, in terms of safety outcomes, whilst supporting the economy, are absolutely at the top of their game.”

When asked where this negative perception was born from, Adam was frank.

“It's primal human behaviour really. Trucks are large. They're big. They're imposing.

“At a deeply subconscious level, our brain turns threat into bad, bad into evil, and so, therefore, trucks—and, as an extension, the entire transport industry—are evil.

“People become nervous while they're driving in their car with trucks around them, which is, somewhat a tragic irony in that, it's far more likely that you will lose your life because you crashed into a truck rather than the other way around.

But opinions are evolving and Adam is championing the cause.

“Slowly but surely, the industry is finding its voice. And through effectively communicating to mainstream media and politicians sharing data and findings, it has been able to articulate its cultural beliefs and its passion for safety in a way that it never has, really, hasn't ever been able to do so before.

“Our performance is speaking for itself and as a result I believe the transport industry can choose its own path, without being subjected to any external regulation that we don't ask for as long as we continue to hit those safety benchmarks.

“Through the likes of the Australian Trucking Association and its member bodies, the industry can choose how it will be regulated rather than being ruled by public servants that don't have the knowledge and experience in the transport industry that our operators and customers have.

“It’s such an honour to be part of this movement, working with so many amazing advocates who are truly committed to delivery these outstanding safety outcomes and that have stood up and said we as an industry can deliver for the Australian economy, 8.2 percent of Australian GDP results from transport activity, and we can do it safely and we can do it our way.”