Let’s take the high road

As a truck and bus industry we must do our best to help reduce the unacceptable carnage on our roads, says VIC OLIVER.

The deaths reported on South Africa’s roads during December and into January this year, plus the loss of some of our valued drivers, prompted me to write this article. While I’m not suggesting our heavy vehicle drivers caused those accidents I do believe truck and bus operators can play a more proactive part in ensuring both driver and vehicle “fitness”.

Some of those recent accidents involving trucks and buses occurred in the early hours of the morning at a time when driver concentration is normally low and the possibility of falling asleep at the wheel increases.

A recent radio report followed a complaint from a bus passenger, who claimed that on a journey from Johannesburg to Durban the bus was forced to stop for two hours at Harrismith to allow the driver to sleep, as he was too tired to drive any further. Apparently the driver told his passengers he’d driven the bus from Durban to Johannesburg and then – without any rest period – had to drive the bus back to Durban and was therefore too tired to continue without some rest.

Fortunately, the driver had sufficient sense to realise he was too tired to continue safely and enforced his own rest period.  Many of his passengers who didn’t understand the danger of him driving continuously without a rest period were very unhappy about their unscheduled stop.

However, his two hours of rest weren’t sufficient to refresh the driver and after continuing the journey to Durban he was fortunately stopped a little further on by the traffic police, who found he was exhausted and forced him to rest yet again.

That story highlights the fact that there is no current legislation about maximum driving hours and compulsory rest periods for long-distance drivers. This is one control measure that all heavy vehicle and bus operators can implement: scheduling their drivers’ rosters to allow for a proper rest period in between trips.

In an endeavour to reduce accidents caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel, many professional truck operators have found that not allowing their vehicles to be used in the “danger zone” between 23:00 and 04:00 has helped reduce their accident rates.

“Vehicle fitness” is another area where many heavy vehicle and bus operators can improve their management and controls. Pre-trip inspections of the vehicle by the driver and a technician will ensure that it is “fit and safe” to operate on the road. For their own safety – as well as the safety of their passengers and other road users – all drivers should be encouraged to carry out a pre-trip inspection before starting a journey. Good teamwork and communication between the driver and technician goes a long way to ensuring vehicle fitness.

Continuous driver training and motivation will also assist in reducing the carnage on our roads. Training should include the skills taught in advanced driver training, especially development of the ability to:

• Stay alert and concentrate at all times while driving;

• Continuously search for road hazards;

• Identify the hazard and slow down;

• Predict what might happen;

• Take immediate action to avoid an accident: look for an “escape route”.

Driving licences and professional driving permits should also be regularly checked to ensure they’re both current and valid.

Taking the high road and doing our part as a professional industry to reduce the death rate arising from accidents on our roads – by ensuring driver and vehicle fitness – will enhance our professional reputation as responsible heavy vehicle and bus operators and save the lives of our drivers, their passengers and other road users.


One of this country’s most respected commercial vehicle industry authorities, VIC OLIVER has been in this industry for 45 years. Before joining the FOCUS team, he spent 15 years with Nissan Diesel, 11 years with Busaf and seven years with International.

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