Hazards and heroes

Professional drivers understand what they, and their vehicles, can do – and know how to negotiate hazardous roads.

Knowing the size, capabilities and limits of the vehicle you’re driving, as well as the hazards one might encounter en route, are paramount to making a swift, safe, efficient journey. It also marks out the more professional, experienced drivers …

The complex I live in is in a relatively quiet street, off a busy main road in the Johannesburg suburb of Ferndale. It’s a picturesque section of road that runs to a T-junction; with towering, bulging trees of green flanking the street.

Nothing much ever happens on our little 400 m section of road; save for some light afternoon activity, with drivers taking to the back roads in an effort to beat the traffic, or some pavement parking by weekend shoppers at the centre on the corner.

In the mornings, though, it’s usually quite quiet. This particular morning was one of a lazy kind – the alarm went off at around 06:45, I dragged my slothful self out of bed, climbed into the shower and got started for the day.

The shower, admittedly, did little to get my energy and alertness levels up to “fully awake”. But, somewhere around 07:20, a chap in an Albany bread truck did quite a good job of that … with a rather loud crack and a bit of crunching.

“That’s it,” I thought, “someone’s been distracted by a cellphone, or by stirring their latté-to-go (or something like that) and has driven through the wall at the end of the street …”

I’d quietly hoped it was the former as, first, it would give me an excuse to preach the dangers of talking or texting while driving and, second, I imagine it would be quite unpleasant to both drive through a wall and spill a hot cup of coffee all over one’s lap …

To my surprise, upon pulling into the street, there was the bread truck about three quarters of the way up the road. On closer inspection, it became apparent that the upper right-hand side of the body had caught some of the lower branches of one of the trees (why he was on the wrong side of the road I don’t know either). One of them was rather hefty too – as about half the length of the vehicle’s body had been ripped open by the now-broken branch!

And, as it transpires, a breaking branch of about 20 cm diameter makes quite a sound when struck by a bread truck travelling at suburban speeds …

This incident got me thinking about how important it is for a driver to know his vehicle as well as his route.

A week earlier I was at the Gerotek testing facility, snapping away with my trusty Canon for Truck Test 2014. As you may well know by now (and you can turn to page 10 for all the details if you don’t …), the facility’s Concrete Ride and Handling Track was chosen to simulate a challenging urban route. Anybody who has gone around this circuit will attest to its combination of snaking twists and turns, tight bends and punishing climbs and falls. It is also almost completely surrounded by thick vegetation, so the ability to see what’s coming is often tricky to manage.

Nevertheless, each of the vehicles had a professional, experienced driver behind the wheel – all of whom carved the course up like butter as the day wore on. Remember too, that they were in a similar category of vehicles as the chap from Albany … not quite nimble sports cars, although I’m sure a few of the participating manufacturers might beg to differ!

So, was the poor guy on his phone, or perhaps stirring his latté? I don’t know; I unfortunately didn’t have the chance to stop and ask him. But I can be almost certain that he was quite oblivious to the actual size of the vehicle he was driving and/or probably hadn’t driven down this particular street before. He definitely had enough space to avoid the branch.

Either way, though, I’d love to know what he decided to tell his boss …

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