EDITORIAL

They may be the most important 14 seconds in Australian transport in the next two decades.

Those seconds mark the estimated time it will take a car travelling at 110km/h to overtake a 100km/h ''monster truck'' - central to national freight reforms signed off by the Gillard government and all the states.

Put another way, they may well be 14-odd seconds of tension as one of the trucks passes your slower car.

The national plan to spread the use of ''modular B-triple'' trucks - each 35 metres long - claims to offer significant economic benefits.

Business and the transport industry have welcomed the forecasts of lower costs from having fewer trucks on the road. There are added benefits of less pollution and reduced road deaths.

The O'Farrell government has flagged a potential trial of modular B-triples on the Hume Highway once it becomes dual carriageway all the way - possibly by mid-2013.

The strong economic case for truck reform has been made in a series of research papers since 2006. The aim is to have an Australian standard big truck, akin to the need for a standard national rail gauge.

The agreed truck is the modular B-triple. It's not as long as the A-doubles and B-triples that run on remote routes now.

The B-triples have the added advantage of being easily transformed when they reach outer-metropolitan areas into 26-metre B-doubles.

But the modular B-triples are still nine metres longer than the B-doubles - and therein lies the government's challenge of winning public support.

The key to maximising the benefits of B-triples is to allow them to travel on more roads than other big trucks.

The national framework for modular B-triple operations, signed in May, makes upgrading strategic routes a priority, starting with missing intercapital connections. The Pacific Highway is well off being the required dual carriageway to Brisbane, leaving the Hume a top priority.

But tales of truck terror on the Hume abound. The National Transport Commission paper on B-triples says: ''There is the potential for adverse reactions … based on the misconception that higher-productivity vehicles are less safe. This was the case when B-doubles were first introduced … and [they] have since made an unquestionable contribution to road safety.''

The NTC said its survey of 1500 people nationally in 2010 found that big trucks barely registered as the No.1 concern while driving.

The NTC did not, however, highlight other important findings. These included that 56 per cent of people found driving behind trucks a main concern.

The bigger trucks claim to be more stable. Having fewer trucks also means fewer encounters with them.

Public concern is no reason to dump important transport reforms. Rather, it tells governments that they have a lot of explaining to do.