Lower Transport Costs from Longer and Heavier Truck/Load Allowances

At present, a laden heavy vehicle that does not have a special permit must not weigh more than 44 tonnes nor exceed 20 metres in length. Under proposed new rules the maximum weights of laden vehicles with special permits will be increased on suitable highways and district roads linking forests, mills, processing plants, ports, railheads and customers.

In early 2007, the NZFOA prepared a report for the forest industry which identified major benefits from allowing longer and heavier trucks on selected parts of the national roading network. Subsequent work and lobbying has lead to the government recently announcing proposed changes to the Land Transport Rule that will bring New Zealand into line with other countries, and mean lower log and forest products transport costs, fewer trucks on the road and a big reduction in fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Most of the 2,000 trucks in New Zealand's log and forest product transport fleet are modern vehicles with engines, brakes, steering and suspension systems designed for much heavier maximum loads. Up until now, this increased capacity has been wasted. The new rules will allow specific vehicles, on designated routes to take longer and heavier loads and more fully utilise their design capacity.

If these increases were applied to 40% of the forest products carried, it is estimated there would be a 20% increase in productivity (and therefore 20% fewer trucks on the road) and a 9% increase in fuel efficiency. That would mean 8,000 fewer forestry truck movements through Rotorua each year and 6,000 fewer through Nelson.

In terms of reducing costs, the changes are expected to yield savings of between $2 to $4/tonne. Based on a $30 stumpage, that represents a saving of 7 to 13%. These savings will assist the forestry sector in New Zealand to make some gains in competitiveness with Australia. A 2008 Road Transport Forum study revealed that New Zealand freight rates were 25% and 29% higher than Tasmania's and Victoria's (respectively) after excluding taxes and charges.

Safety is not compromised by this sort of innovation. In the past eight years, there has been a 70% reduction (per million km) in log truck rollover crashes, largely due a prior initiative to allow longer and lower loads on qualifying 22 m truck and trailer units from 2004. These units have a much lower centre of gravity than conventional trucks. Changes in truck configuration as a result of the new rule changes aren't expected to compromise safety in any way, as centres of gravity are kept low and rig's braking and steering systems are designed for much heavier weights.

The 24m rig at the bottom shows how 4 extra metres of load could be used to dramatically lower the centre of gravity of the trailer, thereby greatly increasing vehicle stability and safety.