Do accidents just happen?
Recent truck accidents – that one might imagine came straight out of a movie – are not acceptable in a professional industry, says VIC OLIVER.
As a professional trucking industry we can no longer accept the horrific truck accidents that occur daily and kill and maim drivers and other road users. We need to endeavour to find out what causes these unacceptable accidents and as truck owners, drivers and law enforcement officers, take steps to eliminate the road carnage.
The photograph above displays the scene shortly after an accident that took place on February 19, in Kibler Park, Johannesburg, when an extra-heavy truck, coupled to a set of interlink trailers, ploughed into several stationery vehicles and burst into flames. Four adults and one child died at the scene and an additional seven victims were taken to nearby hospitals.
According to media reports at the time of the accident, the driver of the truck was speeding. He was arrested on five counts of culpable homicide and charged with reckless and negligent driving.
So is speed the major cause of the truck accidents that we see every day on our roads? I certainly believe
that excessive speed is one of the contributing factors.
During my working life I have had the opportunity to test drive many heavy and extra-heavy commercial vehicles and at times have driven these test vehicles faster than the maximum speed limit of 80 km/h, as stipulated by the National Road Traffic Act. From this experience, I relate driving a heavy or extra-heavy vehicle in excess of the legal speed limit, as similar to driving a standard small production car at 160 km/h. You just hold on and pray that nothing will go wrong.
Brake failure is another common cause claimed by truck drivers that have been involved in serious accidents. But with the advanced world-class braking equipment that is fitted to the modern trucks today, it is virtually impossible for brakes to just fail. So in my opinion, total brake failure is normally a poor excuse, except where the driver has misused and overheated the brakes, or the vehicle is badly maintained.
However, late reaction by the driver to apply the brakes in time, due to the driver being in an unfit state to drive, or being distracted by the use of a cellphone, is a common occurrence.
The fitness of the driver at the time of driving the truck is another factor that has to be considered. The legal requirement for all truck drivers, who drive vehicles where the Gross Vehicle Mass rating exceeds 3 500 kg, is to be in possession of a Professional Driving Permit, ensuring that they are medically fit.
But my advice to truck owners and operators is to send your drivers to a well-known and respected doctor and eye specialist of your choice to ensure that they are properly examined and medically fit to drive your expensive company assets.
Continuous driver training is essential if you want to eliminate or reduce the risk of your truck drivers being involved in accidents. Most of the modern vehicles sold in South Africa today are fitted with hi-tech braking systems and retarders that are highly effective if operated properly. But I find that some of the truck drivers have not been properly taught how to use the braking systems and retarders correctly.
There are many other factors that affect a truck driver’s ability to drive a vehicle in a safe and professional manner. But unless we start to address the attitude of drivers and some of the basic skills required and get drivers to obey the rules of the road, we will not see a reduction in the road carnage involving heavy vehicles.
One of this country’s most respected commercial vehicle industry authorities, VIC OLIVER has been in this industry for 49 years. Before joining the FOCUS team, he spent 15 years with Nissan Diesel, 11 years with Busaf and seven years with International.