“What gives [transport] operators the right to think they can put [unroadworthy] rubbish on the same roads as our families,” asked Patrick O’Leary, managing editor of Fleetwatch magazine while presenting at the 6th annual TSE Bigmax Safety and Trailer Wellness Indaba held in Denver, Johannesburg, this weekend.
South Africa is believed to record around 15 000 deaths every year from its estimated 900 000 annual total motor vehicle accidents*. Of the 10.2 million vehicles on the country’s roads, roughly 360 000 are trucks.
While Australia has nearly twice the number of motor vehicles on its roads compared to South Africa, it has less than 10% of our road fatalities. This means South Africa’s road death rate is 20 times higher than Australia’s.
Part of the reason for this, O’Leary believes, is the inadequate adoption of best practice taking place in the industry.
“What happens when you don’t maintain your vehicles? They fall apart. We see trucks on the roads like that every day,” he said. “You might have fantastic maintenance procedures in place, but you’re sharing the roads with unfit rubbish.”
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O’Leary said that out of 100 driver applications received at Manline, only seven were found to be suitable for training and only two of those were eventually employed. “But what about the operators? What qualifications does one need to become an operator? None. You go buy a rig, register as an operator and that’s it,” he pointed out.
Operators have a duty and a responsibility to make their vehicles safe.
There is also an attitude of ‘drive or you’re fired’ when transport owners and operators are told about the state of their trucks. “It’s incredible in an era with such a massive driver shortage.”
He said there are currently around 500 000 “professional” truck drivers in the country, adding that it is estimated that 43% of all professional drivers in South Africa are using expired PrDP’s, while nearly half of all Zimbabwean driver’s licenses are thought to be fake because these drivers seldom bother to travel back to Zimbabwe to pay the $38 renewal fee.
According to O’Leary, truck hijackings have ‘gone through the roof’ and so many long-haul drivers are driving in fear. He said drivers had to do with lousy overnight facilities. Many had poor diets.
He further bemoaned the current state of provincial roads infrastructure. “We’ve got fantastic [national] roads – the roads managed by SANRAL and by the toll concessionaires – but in the provinces, they don’t care.”
He said to this situation we must add the lawless environment the country currently finds itself in; unroadworthy vehicles and illegal operators are commonplace, drivers with fraudulently obtained licenses are a real problem and roadworthy certificates are being bought and sold.
“South Africa lacks a road safety culture. Traffic authorities are not respected. Bribery is rife. The government has failed. Road users have failed. And driver training is a joke – it doesn’t exist. This is the environment in which we’re operating.”
He explained that the consequences of all this were unqualified drivers and unqualified operators, which manifested in headline-grabbing crashes, like those in Fields Hill and Alberton.
He took the opportunity to criticise the media, saying they preferred to cover the accidents that resulted in high body counts, or those which involved public figures like Collins Chabane.
“South African’s have become desensitised to doing things right because we talk about body counts and not people,” he stated.
He said transport is a great industry vital to the economy but that its image is being tainted because the people involved are not looking at heavy vehicles closely enough.
“From the outside, unroadworthy trucks might look okay. But we need to be hands-on, face-to-face. We need to get closer and get underneath the trucks.
“Unfortunately, anything goes in transport. Banning trucks won’t stop the carnage. We need to get real. We need to get practical. And we need the government to work together with the industry.
“You, ladies and gentlemen, are the answer. It stops with you. It can be changed,” he said.