N3 takes its Toll

Empty alcohol containers found along the busiest trucking route in South Africa tell a worrying story.

One would think that the statistic – one person killed every four days – is that of a serial killer and not the busiest trucking route in South Africa. But the N3 Toll route tells a different story, and the numbers of empty alcohol bottles and cans found along this 418 km stretch of road between Johannesburg and Durban only add to the sad narrative.

Con Roux, managing director of the N3 Toll route, sheds more light on this matter. According to Roux, his team picks up 6 000 plastic bags of rubbish every month between the Heidelberg and Pietermaritzburg hill part of the route.

A large part of this comprises empty alcohol containers, which is cause for great concern as it seems to indicate that drivers are drinking while driving. This is even more concerning when you consider that there are presently 4 200 extra-heavy commercial vehicles travelling this route every 24 hours, a figure which soars to 6 000 an hour in peak periods.

It would be easy, taking the previous figures into account, to believe that extra-heavy commercial vehicles would therefore account for a large percentage of these accidents. But the startling fact is that heavy vehicles account for a mere 30% of the total traffic on the route.

According to Roux, there are other tell-tale signs indicating the cause of the unacceptable accident and fatality rates on this stretch of road. Heavy vehicles are most commonly involved in rear-end collisions and are also continually crashing into the toll gate barriers.  These types of accidents, in conjunction with the empty alcohol containers, would suggest that drivers are operating under the influence of alcohol, or even narcotics.

However, we should also remember that there’s always the possibility for smoke without fire – and that fatigue may play its part in this story. Many of the single vehicle accidents can be attributed to this culprit, which occurs when drivers push themselves way beyond their physical capability and end up falling asleep behind the wheel.

The team which manages and monitors the N3 is dedicated to the goal of minimising the accident rate and, after each accident, team members investigate the probable cause and take immediate action to lower the chances of a similar incident occurring.

A good example is the action taken by the team near Harrismith, where vehicles travelling in a south-easterly direction (from Warden) were prevented from making a right turn into a filling station – which reduced the number of broadside collisions on this part of the route. The speed limit has also been reduced on the same section of road.

But the N3 team and traffic police need assistance from the transport operators to decrease the number of accidents on our busiest trucking route. They can do this by ensuring that:

• Their vehicles are in a roadworthy and safe condition;

• That the driver is well trained on how to handle the vehicle in a safe and professional manner;

• The driver is in a fit and healthy condition and not abusing alcohol or narcotics;

• The driving hours are controlled. There are 2 600 safe parking bays at various truck stops on the route for drivers to park and rest at;

• The vehicle is not overloaded.

The N3 Toll concession is continually carrying out maintenance on the route to ensure that this main transport corridor, linking a major sea port to the industrial hub of South Africa, remains in a good and safe condition. It will be spending a total of R6 million on road maintenance between 2010 and 2012, but all road users should play their part in reducing the number of fatalities and injuries on our roads.


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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