Out of Africa

Les Bruzsa is making it his mission to help African transport industries become safer and more efficient. So well-known for his knowledge of performance-based standards, they have nicknamed him Mr. PBS.

Heavily involved in the development and implementation of Performance Based Standards (PBS) in Australia, Les Bruzsa’s expertise takes him around the world.  He recently returned from another sojourn to South Africa, where he presented two PBS courses to inform both government and industry stakeholders about the PBS approach to heavy vehicle design and operation.

As Chief Engineer for Australia’s National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR), he has seen first-hand how PBS has cut road trauma, improved efficiency and reduced the impact on infrastructure and the environment. The rules and performance standards of the well-regarded Australian PBS program are now being used as the benchmark for a South African scheme and a number of other African countries are looking to follow suit.

Image: NHVR.

In Australia, the scheme, which has more than 10,000 approved PBS combinations currently on the road, has become an international leader, with jurisdictions in Europe and the United States seeking out the NHVR’s expertise to implement similar initiatives.

“Australia is unique because we are the only country which would have a fully comprehensive PBS scheme in our legislation,” Bruzsa explained. “The PBS pilot project has been running in South Africa for more than twelve years and has adopted most of the Australian PBS rules.”

Over this time, Bruzsa has delivered twelve lectures to the delegates and run five practical PBS exercises during the two-day courses.

Twelve years ago, when the program first began, South Africa was facing a myriad of challenges. The country needed to reduce the cost of logistics, start to take cutting greenhouse gas emissions seriously and upgrading the nation’s aging infrastructure, not to mention improving its road safety record.

Under a PBS approach, vehicles are required to meet a stringent set of performance standards relating to manoeuvrability, stability, and infrastructure impact, while prescriptive limits on mass and dimensions are relaxed.

Examples of performance standards include road space utilised during low-speed turning, dynamic stability during an evasive manoeuvre, and bridge-loading impact. PBS vehicles are typically limited to a specific subset of the road network that has been assessed as suitable, to ensure the safety of other road users and the protection of the road infrastructure.

The courses, Bruzsa says, are intensive and cover a range of topics and while there have been some modifications in the standards because South African vehicles are wider, for the most part the country’s transport system is very similar to that of Australia. The industry is also similar with a heavy focus on mining and agriculture, and the vehicles required for those sectors.

Meanwhile, the results are speaking for themselves. In South Africa in 2007 there were two vehicles running under the PBS program and currently there are more than 1200.

In terms of trips saved, the two countries have similar figures – 26 per cent in South Africa and 29 per cent in Australia.

“The safety benefits of the program for South Africa are crucial because road safety is significantly worse there then in Australia and other developed countries,” Bruzsa said. “In terms of crash rates there has been a 44 per cent reduction under the PBS program, an average of 12 per cent reduction in road wear and tear, as well as the environmental benefits of reduced fuel.”

There is also the advantage of increased skill levels and helping drivers, operators and stakeholders understand how PBS works and in turn make better decisions.

It is Bruzsa’s hope that South Africa’s National Department of Transport will make a decision about the program and make it a permanent part of the government’s legislation.

Bruzsa is hopeful, especially considering there is growing interest in the program in other African countries.

“Namibia has also embarked on a PBS pilot project and countries such as Botswana and Mozambique are looking at PBS for their vehicles which is also important for cross border issues.”

Bruzsa suspects there will be more travelling in his future, and he will of course return to South Africa despite his hosts gifting him with a South African rugby jersey after the Australian Wallabies lost.

“I do love the country,” he said. “And I want to help them as much as I can.”

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