Tactical and Technical

Slow down! Some analysis and recommendations on improving G Wagon driver safety in Army

By Brendan Robinson June 25, 2019


The G Wagon is a very heavy 4x4 with heaps of power and drives quietly and smoothly compared to a LR110. All these factors work against the driver leading up to an accident. The core issue is speed on 2nd class roads. Drivers need to adjust their speed to the road conditions (slow down). This will require a culture shift across all drivers within Army. In our favour, the G Wagon has high strength A pillars (part of the SEK kit). The vehicle holds up well in a roll over incident. To date relatively minor injuries [however] a side impact into a solid object will most likely tip the balance.
                                                               - Lieutenant Colonel Warren Whibley, MSc, BEng(Elec), FIEAust, CPEng Chief Engineer - Commercial & General Service Vehicles

As we roll into the latest iteration of the Joint Warfare Series, the interest in vehicle safety predictably peaks. Why? Well, we can guarantee that with several thousand personnel operating their vehicles and equipment in Shoal Water Bay Training Area (The Bay) there will be a number of vehicle accidents ranging from minor to serious, and maybe worse. The statistics prove it: but this article is not about the stats, it’s about how we can change driver behaviour to improve safety and hopefully reduce the avoidable harm to personnel and damage to equipment.

As Forces Command’s Incident Manager, my role is to report and monitor trends in incident reporting. There are 14 categories of incidents that can be reported in Army’s Incident Management System including substance abuse, unacceptable behaviour, sexual misconduct, mental health, explosive ordnance, range and vehicle incidents. Of interest to this article are vehicle accidents. Many of these categories equate to either the Chief of Army’s or Commander Forces Command’s Critical Information Requirements. Since January 2017, there have been 22 G Wagon accidents reported in AIMS and there could well be more that went unreported, have been reported elsewhere or miscategorised.


[Image 1: G Wagon Rollover - A G Wagon rollover that occurred during a recent exercise in Shoal Water Bay Training Area. Both occupants escaped injury although the damage to the vehicle is extensive. The accident occurred at a bend on an unsealed road. The likely cause was that the driver was not driving to the road conditions.]

My analysis of these 22 accidents, and the associated AC 626 Vehicle Accident Reports, show that more than half of these accidents occurred on exercise. Significantly, almost as many accidents were assessed to be terrain-related (32%) as speed-related[i] (41%). To date, Army has been lucky and despite these 22 accidents none have resulted in serious injuries. On some level, we can thank the quality of Mercedes’ design and manufacture of the 2,146 six-cylinder, 3.0L turbo diesel G Wagons Defence acquired through Land 121 Phase 3A for preventing more serious outcomes. Indeed, one professional car reviewer describes the civilian version as suited to ‘idiot proof 4WD adventuring’. Yet, we still have instances of avoidable accidents. The same review also highlights the speed and power of the G Wagon. As numerous people have said to me, and as performance trials have shown, the G Wagon massively outperforms the old Land Rover 110, just as the Land Rover 110 did to the Series 3 Land Rovers in the 1990s. As we are now seeing with the G Wagon, the changeover from the Land Rover Series 3 to the 110 saw numerous rollovers, some fatalities and many serious injuries. One response in the 1990s was to install rollover protection bars to the 110 fleet probably saving many lives.

The new G Wagons are a very safe vehicle[ii], much safer than the Land Rover 110. Yet they are vastly more powerful and capable than the 110. From an engineering perspective, little else can or should be done to improve safety. The changes that are necessary to improve safety are behavioural and the statistics above prove this. So what can we do to improve driver behaviour?

At the outset, driver training is a critical factor in producing safe drivers. Army’s School of Transport (AST) are responsible to train the vast majority of Defence’s G Wagon drivers and it has an enviable record in doing this [correction]. AST offers a world-class combination of theory, practical and simulated driver training delivered by a professional cadre of military and contracted driving instructors. Yet good training only goes so far, as shown by studies conducted in the aviation industry.

In 1956, following several high-profile aviation disasters, Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO now DST Group) researcher, Mr David Warren, developed a prototype ‘flight memory unit’. As Chris Sheedy observed

“David Warren’s flight recorder was originally rejected by airlines. Some in Australia even said it was an invasion of pilots’ privacy. But in 1960, after TAA Flight 538 from Brisbane to Mackay crashed into the ocean on approach to Mackay Airport, killing all 29 passengers and crew on board the Fokker Friendship, the government changed its tune."[iii]

No one travelling by air now would imagine flying in an aircraft without a ‘black box’ recorder and after that accident, Australia became the first to mandate the use of black box recorders in all commercial aircraft. Other data initiatives such as the analysis of flight simulation records are now widely used in the aviation industry. Indeed, both Qantas and Virgin Australia centrally manage and analyse aircraft fleet data to improve pilot and aircraft performance. Australia’s Army Aviation program have just started to do this for the fleet of Blackhawks and Tiger ARHs to obtain “predictive analytics…required to change behaviours and avoid accidents”.[iv] As Colonel David Lynch observed

“These are data driven pre-incident indicators that can enhance safety through proactive re-training or other preventative actions. Also, once you have this sort of program in play, and people know they are being watched, behaviours change.”[v]

We should consider this predictive approach for our new fleet of Land 121 vehicles (and maybe Land 400 vehicles if equipped) as all now come fitted with data management systems. Such systems aid Defence vehicle fleet managers to keep track of usage and sustainment costs. Yet they can equally be used to predict outcomes based on the recorded metrics of speed, GPS location, and vehicle dynamics, such as gear selection, steering use, body roll angle and traction control/ABS activation. We already use this data to conduct post-incident analysis of an accident when the stated cause recorded by a driver in an AC626 seems to contradict reality.

[Image 2: VDMS Data Chart - CASG analysis of the vehicle data management system from a recent G Wagon rollover. Speed 107km/h (likely on an 80km/h road) leading up to the bend. Simply travelling way to fast. Loss of control was about 35311:47. Vehicle rolled completely back onto its wheels. Vehicle beyond economical repair. Copyright Department of Defence.]

As useful as this is for disciplinary purposes, in reality it comes too late and will be for the family of the next soldier that is injured or worse in a G Wagon vehicle accident.

In the next few weeks, the number of personnel driving service vehicles in or near The Bay during the Joint Warfare Series will rise sharply and, from my perspective, it is hard to see how we will not have a vehicle accident involving speed. Command supervision and preventative measures will of course be in place and will include greater signage of speed limits, increased Military Police checks, greater physical driver supervision, pre-departure checks and the usual mandatory convoy orders. But this won’t work if someone intends to drive too fast for the conditions on the unsealed, all weather dirt roads throughout The Bay. What might work is if that if drivers know that their driving is being monitored: this knowledge may change their behaviour.

The good news is that Defence, through the Directorate of Logistics – Army, is already making progress in this area. A trial of telematics reporting[vi] is underway on Defence’s heavy vehicle fleet[vii] to improve compliance with the National Heavy Vehicle Law[viii] and, ultimately, safety. The value of post-incident data is also acknowledged within Defence’s Capability and Acquisition Group[ix] and within the latest version of Defence Road Transport Manual (DRTM).[x]  A solution is nearly at hand – the next steps would be to exploit the work and contracts Army Aviation already have in place to collect and analyse pre-incident G Wagon data and to tweak our policy to ensure that pre-incident data is considered as useful as post incident data.

Irrespective of this: stay safe, slow down and always drive to the conditions. Your family, friends and the Army want you back home in one piece.

[a]  Correction: The author acknowledges feedback that whilst AST owns and exports the training management package for G Wagon driving instruction, AST actually trains less than 1500 G Wagon drivers annually. The vast majority of ADF G Wagon drivers are trained in Australian Army line units using the AST exported training management package. This does not change the premise of this article that G Wagon drivers need to slow down on dirt roads.

 

[i] This could be either exceeding marked speed limits or driving too aggressively for the road conditions, particularly on second class roads.

[ii] Mercedes’ ADF-procured G Wagon has not been assessed under the ANCAP system. However, the 2019 G350d wagon has a maximum 5 star European NCAP rating.

[iii] Chris Sheedy, 2019, “Safe Travels’, Create, Vol 5, No. 5, June 2019, Engineers Australia, page 55

[iv] Colonel David Lynch, Director Operational Airworthiness, Aviation Branch, Headquarters Forces Command, Australian Army in email exchange with author dated 19 Jun 2019.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Telematics technology remotely manages vehicles or other assets. Telematics can provide managers pre-determined vehicle operation information including location using GPS, speed, driver behaviour, and engine diagnostics, refer to Defence Protected Network http://drnet/Army/DLOGA/hvm/Pages/Current-Initiatives-.aspx for more information.

[vii] 17 Brigade Force Modernisation and Innovation Bulletin, Issue 1, March 2019, Department of Defence (refer to Defence Protected Network, 17 Brigade website http://drnet/Army/17BDE/Pages/Force%20Modernisation.aspx to view electronic copy).

[viii] The Heavy Vehicle National Law outlines the legislative requirements Defence must meet for heavy vehicle operations, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator administers this law. 

[ix] Lieutenant Colonel Warren Whibley, 2018, Discussion Paper: G Wagon Vehicle Data Management System Analysis in support of vehicle accident investigation, Capability and Acquisition Group, Department of Defence.

[x] Defence Road Transport Manual, Department of Defence, para 10.44,


Portrait

Biography

Brendan Robinson

Brendan Robinson is a graduate of the UK Command and Staff College and the Royal Military College Duntroon. Trained as a mechanical engineer at the Australian Defence Force Academy, he has served with armoured, infantry and logistics units and has deployed twice. He now manages the sensitive and strategic incidents that arise from Army’s largest command, Forces Command. He maintains an interest in good writing, world affairs and Army modernisation.

Brendan has also written:

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



Comments

During my service I as a first responder Medic have attended many Defence vehicle accidents, the first of which was about 89/90 at Holsworthy where a 110 with 12 Pax rolled. In this instance there had been rear incidents leading up to the roll-over, and the driver endeavoured to slow to a suitable speed. He was faced with go slow and be repremanded (as he was told)or follow direct which he did. This is an example of where time on target / time of arrival pressures have led to a significant incident, and was the first of many I attended over my years. Despite drivers being told they are I control and make decisions, the power or rank had proved to always outweighs. As with the iceberg theory, it’s only when there an incident that it’s heard. Remember, it is the digger not the commander who’s driving. Commanders need to be accountable when a passenger for real change to be able occur, and lives be saved.  

Until pers understand the definition of difficult terrain in DRTM and how appropriate training is conducted, along with robust accident investigations G Wgn accidents will continue. Formed unsealed roads can become 'difficult terrain' within minutes of adverse weather, greatly affecting the road surface and vehicle handling. 

Load positioning and restraint are elements that are grossly underestimated in Defence. The continued push to recognise civilian 'C' class provisional licence in order to abbreviate G Wagon training will IMO continue to foster this attitude. Remember that a Defence member that holds a provisional licence has in a majority of instances received training from their parents. Their provisional period has been interupted by recruit trg & IETs, but we expect them to front up as a Duty Driver in any vehicle without any trg or knowledge of when they last operated a vehicle.

In support of Brendan's article I would like to confirm to all personnel utilising the G Wagon that the recorded data can be extracted. Viewing and analysing the data is a bit more difficult but can be performed by CASG from what I understand. The unit writes data to disk and therefore is not power dependant and has been proven to be able to be extracted from vehicles that have swum up to their roof, so the unit is quite robust.

Cross-referencing the AD049 with the recorded data is possible and might be useful to a driver as much as a commander. From checking how much fuel was put into the vehicle (although that is a lot of work to go through for that information) to the right pedal manipulation (indicating feathering of the throttle during circle work), there are many data streams being recorded every second.

As a driving aid it could be useful to have that information more readily available but that would require Defence cleared memory sticks (currently possible), whitelist the software from OEM and it be put on DRN (can be achieved) and some training (OEM or CASG supported). The benefits to getting this software are very tangible and can change a culture to supported self-reporting which have the best safety records (read Aviation). A similar system used commercially in Victoria reports on driver behaviour and efficiency and has greatly increased the companies driving costs and safety record; from a text being sent to the responsible manager whenever a vehicle exceeds the speed limit, to giving drivers a weekly report of breaking and acceleration efficiency with coaching on how to be more efficient drivers. The drivers have become supportive of the data.

So yes, G Wagon drivers should know that the information is available and that they can also have it as a defence to their report. And always follow DRTM especially with hours driven. You are in charge of the vehicle and orders must not contradict.

Have a good and safe TS19. See you in the field.

Thanks for your comments so far. There are a number of legislations and regulations governing the movement of heavy vehicles on public roads. The key legislation is the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HNVL), which includes five primary regulations. Supporting the HNVL is Chain of Responsibility (CoR) outlining that responsibility for the safe movement of heavy vehicles is the responsibility of everyone who affects that movement in any way from the Executive Officer to the Driver. The ‘onus of proof’ of compliance with HVNL rests with Defence; if an incident were to occur then Defence must prove, so far as reasonably practical, steps were taken to prevent such an incident. Of note, a G Wagon becomes a heavy vehicle when it tows the issued trailer.

Similarly, there always has and always will be a requirement for command supervision of drivers in terms of how their vehicles are loaded and checked, and through the provision of convoy orders and monitoring of fatigue and tasking. This supervision starts with our junior non-commissioned officers and goes right up to the Commanding Officer.

Lastly, the data can work both ways and when used properly, it will have enormous benefit. This is an area where we need to catch up with industry.

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