Protecting our roads

In the last few months, I’ve had the opportunity to travel on many of our national and secondary roads – and have been alarmed to see how many of our secondary roads are in a very poor state due to a lack of maintenance over the last 20 years and the overloading of vehicles.

The condition of our national network of roads in South Africa plays a vital role in promoting economic growth and the living standards of our people. With the majority of our freight being transported by road, we need to protect our roads.

As a responsible road freight industry, we, together with the road traffic officials who are responsible for enforcing the law, need to play a bigger role in protecting our national road network. We need stricter policing, and for road transport operators to ensure that their vehicles are not overloaded and conform to the National Road Traffic Act Regulations.

It is also the responsibility of truck and bus dealers to select the right vehicle for the application and to inform and educate their customers, especially new hauliers, of the consequences of overloading. Plus, where necessary, they must also educate them on how to load their vehicles correctly within the regulatory confines.

Today, most professional long distance road freight operators are to be congratulated for operating vehicles that comply with all the road traffic regulations and axle mass loads – especially those operators who use the main major trucking routes in the country.

However, it is some of the smaller operators and new hauliers using the secondary road networks – which are not well-policed – who are overloading their vehicles and thereby damaging the roads. They overload their vehicles due to the misconception that this will enable them to make a bigger profit, but many studies have shown that this practice reduces long-term profit due to higher maintenance costs and shorter life of the vehicle.

Some of these operators are operating vehicles that do not conform to the Road Traffic Act bridge formula. As a result, they are running vehicles where the axle spacing is too narrow, causing point loading on the road which, in turn, does severe damage to the road.

They are also not maintaining the correct tyre pressures on their vehicles. Research has shown under- or over-inflated tyre pressure not only leads to increased tyre costs but also damages the roads.

Overloaded vehicles also present a traffic hazard on our roads, especially when an overloaded vehicle has to suddenly stop in an emergency situation. Overloaded vehicles that are not driven with care when negotiating steep downhill gradients can become runaway vehicles due to brake failure when the brakes become overheated, too.

Operators who overload their vehicles also create unfair competition for those professional road transport operators who don’t overload.

South African road transport operators enjoy among the highest axle-mass loads and gross combination mass ratings in the world. Over the past few years, there have been many decisions at government level to reduce our gross combination ratings in order to reduce road damage. However, if road transport operators adopt a more responsible attitude to helping to reduce road damage, we can demonstrate our professionalism and hopefully eliminate the threat of gross combination ratings being reduced.

 


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.

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