Highway(Junction’s) halfway house
If anyone needs a first-rate haven offering peace, safety, comfort and convenience, it’s the South African truck driver. Those who frequent Highway Junction on the N3 corridor get just that – and it will be a safer South Africa if more operators allow their drivers to stop for the quality of rest and service provided by this facility.
There were 326 721 registered trucks on our roads at the end of March 2011, and 1 531 fatal truck crashes in the 12 months leading to that date. That averages out at four a day. This is unacceptable, of course. And the Road Traffic Management Corporation’s Road Accident Traffic Report (RATP), shows that 329 pedestrians were killed by trucks in that period, so a whole lot of people are being affected.
But what is driving this statistic? Fleet owners and operators may shoulder much of the blame. Pushing for payload and time might make sense in terms of the bottom line, but when the lives of the driver and other road users are at stake, not to mention the integrity of the truck, it makes no sense at all.
The N3 corridor connecting Johannesburg to Durban is a major import and export route and accounts for way too many deaths: KwaZulu-Natal is responsible for three times as many fatal truck accidents as any other province.
Highway Junction, situated just outside Harrismith, exactly halfway between Durban and Johannesburg, has been helping to improve matters since May 1999. The facility provides a safe, clean, secure and familiar environment where long-haul truckers can stop, rest, eat, shower, park their vehicles in a safe environment, refuel and make repairs if need be.
Highway Junction went on to become the top rated truck stop in South Africa and the preferred stopping point for 70 percent of all drivers using the route. More than 1 200 vehicles pass through the facility daily.
Ben Deysel, who heads up the Highway Group, explains: “Highway Junction was planned and built for our own use initially. We had been involved in transport for years and realised that our drivers needed a safe and decent facility where they could rest in peace and safety. Highway Junction was a suggestion from our in-house ‘drivers forum’. They recommended that we find a suitable spot in this area where they could stop to rest and take care of refuelling and maintenance.”
He adds: “Drivers can only function well when they are treated well, with healthy food, clean ablutions and secure resting facilities.”
The transport industry plays a major role in our economic development. We wouldn’t deprive managers and CEOs of quality facilities, and the same consideration must be extended to truck drivers.
Deysel says it isn’t just fly-by-night operators who push their vehicles and drivers to the limit – some professional transporters are just as guilty. The N3 corridor is a racetrack for reckless operators, under-qualified drivers, and drivers who believe they are well experienced in the truck driving game.
The Road Accident Traffic Report indicates that 38 percent of fatal crashes occur between 18:00 and 24:00, followed by the 24:00 to 06:00 period (13 percent). This night-time driving is particularly dangerous. Driver fatigue, exacerbated by insufficient sleeping hours and alcohol consumption, together with the lure of prostitution, is a time bomb – a huge time bomb moving at 80 km/h and weighing approximately
56 000 kg.
Deysel challenges anyone who disagrees to drive the N3 from Heidelberg to Durban between 22h00 and 04h00. “There’s no better way for someone to appreciate the enormous safety risks on this road.”
Highway Truck Park
With Highway Junction doing so well, Deysel and his partners sat down: why provide a good facility when you can provide a great one?
The company decided to extend the facility into a world-class logistics, storage and handling facility as well. The adjacent property was acquired in 2002 and developed to include additional parking, drivers’ restrooms and clubhouse, a bus rotunda and warehousing facilities – it’s now known as Highway Truck Park.
Together, Highway Junction and Highway Truck Park have all the amenities a truck driver could possibly need. Clean ablutions, driver resting rooms, an ATM, a restaurant and canteen, a fully-functioning clinic, a laundromat and a truck wash bay, as well refuelling and maintenance facilities.
Deysel actively promotes driver peace of mind, convenience and comfort. “Our location and focus on reliable quality has proven itself,” he says. “That’s why this stop is so popular. We are regularly complimented on our facility, but we still welcome any suggestions that will help us meet and exceed expectations.”
Another benefit offered by the Highway Group is the reliable controlling of on-the-road refuelling. Systems are in place to alert operators – via email, SMS or daily phone calls – of any transaction taking place at the facility. Detailed weekly reports can also be provided. These, together with high-definition cameras, are helping operators to get on top of fuel consumption and theft.
The future of Highway Junction looks bright. There are plans to spend an estimated R12 million in upgrades and improvements over the next three years. The new Highway Driver’s Clubhouse opened recently is reserved for drivers who enter the overnight parking, but plans are in place to build a second lounge as well as an Internet facility, gym and overnight rooms.
Fleetowners and transport operators are obliged to invest in driver wellness. Doing so results in responsible driving and promotes good returns on the massive capital investments involved in transport.
Ultimately, the decision to be a safe driver or concerned operator is exactly that. A decision. “Unfortunately, there are poorly controlled drivers using our roads, and this is a direct reflection of poor management in certain companies,” says Deysel. “They are the curse of this wonderful industry.”