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Driver decisions, not dust storm, to blame for fatal head-on truck crash near Truro, SA Police say

By Daniel Keane, Friday August 9, 2019 - 18:09 EST
ABC image
The scene of yesterday's truck head-on crash near Truro. - ABC

Police have criticised motorists who continued to drive in "zero" visibility during Thursday's dust storm on the Sturt Highway, after a fatal head-on truck crash claimed two lives.

Renmark man Coen Fraser, 26, was one of two drivers killed when their trucks collided and burst into flames near Truro.

Tributes have been posted on social media, with one person saying he would be "forever and always in our hearts".

"Rest in peace to such a beautiful kind-hearted boy," another said.

"So many memories we have shared [including] morning toots when you were going to work or truck horns every time you would drive past in the truck … we are going to miss you so much."

The other truck driver, Brenden Giles, 64, of Andrews Farm, has been remembered by his family as a hardworking grandfather who was looking forward to retiring next year.

"Every spare minute he had, he was busy at home or helping family or friends," they said in a handwritten note given to the media.

"He would always be the first one to put up a hand to offer to help."

, with conditions along the highway reducing visibility to about a metre, according to police.

The circumstances are still being investigated, but the state's Road Transport Association has rejected suggestions pulling over would have been the safer option, saying it could have put other road users at risk.

However, Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said while the crash was a "tragic collision" and expressed his deepest sympathies for both victims and their families, he said poor decisions were to blame.

"A dust storm does not cause vehicles to crash. It's the decisions of the drivers," Commissioner Stevens said.

"Every collision that occurs on our roads primarily [is] a result of a bad decision by someone using a vehicle.

"In this case, those decisions related to a choice made to continue driving, or driving in a manner which was not consistent with the conditions."

The crash happened about 11:30am on Thursday and one of the trucks was carrying aerosol cans, which caused "a number of small explosions", police said.

Emergency services were confronted with "horrific" scenes at the crash site.

The Sturt Highway remained closed overnight between Blanchetown and Truro while investigations into the cause of the crash continued.

Dashcam and other footage taken along the Sturt Highway showed the road engulfed in dust.

"Airlines don't let pilots take-off when they can't see. If airports are fogged in, or weather conditions prevent safe flying, planes don't take off," Commissioner Stevens said.

"What makes us think we can continue to drive on our roads if visibility is down to zero?

"If zero is the extent that you have visibility, then zero is the speed you should be doing."

Decision to keep driving 'lesser of two evils'

SA Road Transport Association executive director Steve Shearer said truck drivers in dangerous conditions were often confronted with a dilemma about the best course of action.

He said while the circumstances surrounding the Truro crash were unclear, he suggested it was premature to blame the drivers.

"The challenge that we have in the trucking industry is that it's not like driving a car, where you can fairly easily pull over anywhere," he said.

"It's difficult for truck drivers to pull over to the side of the road — it's often creating another danger.

"That's a very difficult position for truck drivers to be in, so they have to choose the lesser of two evils.

"If we can't get right off the road, there's a serious risk of a motorist coming along behind us and slamming into the back of a parked truck, and they will inevitably [be] killed because the car is a lot lower than the truck."

Police on Friday launched a new road safety campaign in the wake of the collision, with new graphic imagery — including blood smears at crash sites — to serve as a deterrent.

The campaign, called Operation High Impact F5, will target the so-called "fatal five": drink and drug driving, speeding, distraction, not wearing seatbelts and dangerous road users.

Commissioner Stevens said the purpose was to prevent the same heartbreak which is now impacting the families of the latest victims.

"These people have just lost a loved one. Their friends have lost someone. The last time they spoke to those people, the last thing they thought of was that they were going to be [in] a funeral," he said.

"They're devastated by that and we feel for the families."

The truck drivers' deaths take the state's annual road toll to 73, compared to 43 at the same time last year.

Transport Workers Union branch secretary Ian Smith said truck driving was "one of the most dangerous industries out there" and called on SafeWork SA to investigate the crash.

"[They're] workplace deaths and two families have tragically been put in a horrible position," he said.

Last week, Transport Minister Stephan Knoll announced $70 million in funding to upgrade eight regional roads, to allow higher speed limits and faster driving.

"On top of that, there's an extra $26 million of works we've also put into this financial year for shoulder sealing," he told ABC Radio Adelaide this morning.

"Sealing the shoulder of a road, if for some reason someone swerves and doesn't swerve onto gravel … by sealing that shoulder we can reduce death and serious injury."

However, Mr Shearer said there were still safety issues which required further attention and called for further investment.

"What we want to see from Government is a far better supply of rest areas right across our network. They know we've got nowhere near enough," he said.

"We want to see better road shoulders, and that might help truck drivers who feel they need to pull over for safety reasons to actually make that decision and to be able to do so safely."


© ABC 2019

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