By Freethinker Jo
YES, South Africa probably produces the worst truck drivers in the SADC region if you judge from the rate of accidents the drivers are involved in.
With the recent spike in accidents involving heavy-duty haulage trucks on our roads, one is left questioning the quality of the current crop of drivers the country has.
What defines a professional truck driver?
Four qualities of a professional truck driver:
- properly licenced
- fully trained for defensive driving
- relevantly experienced
- medically fit
In South Africa, one only needs to have a Professional Driving Permit (PDP) to be called a professional trucker. But, what is with the PDP that separates a licenced driver from a professional driver? Nothing!
A PDP is not a course of any sort that the country relies on to call a PDP holder a professional driver.
A driver’s licence obtained 5 years ago and remained unused in that period does not equate to 5 years of experience. Experience is unreplaceable.
Meanwhile, with that 5-year-old virgin licence, one can easily obtain a PDP and apply for a truck driving job.
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During the application for a PDP, a driver is not tested for his driving skill but just medical and criminal checks. While the checks form a vital part required for one to be recognised as a professional truck driver, they can never replace skill and experience.
Defensive Driving Certificate
Defensive driving is the practice of maintaining an awareness of road and weather conditions, other vehicles, road users and potentially hazardous situations and then taking steps to prevent becoming the cause of or becoming involved in a road crash.
In other countries, Zimbabwe, to be specific. A truck driver qualifies to drive articulated vehicles if his licence is more than 2 years old and he passes a Defensive Driving Course. Both requirements are not negotiable.
This creates two levels of drivers, rookies and professional truck drivers. As a rookie, you are allowed to drive non-articulated heavy vehicles not exceeding 16 tonnes. Before one becomes a professional trucker he has to work with entry-level heavy vehicles before he graduates to drive ultra-heavy vehicles.
The driver license test in South Africa
Would you agree that a driver’s license test is not enough to adequately assess the driving ability of a new Truck driver and that there are many aspects of driving not assessed?
The current driving test is a basic practical assessment of driving skills and a test on your ability to acknowledge Traffic road regulations as you were taught from the K53.
There is far too much emphasis on yard work, manoeuvres and although some defensive driving is incorporated in the test, more is missing somehow.
The test, as it stands, assesses the practical ability to manoeuvre in confined spaces (alley docking etc.) and the ability to drive in built-up areas.
The road test is a problem as driving school instructors use the actual test route with their learners over and over but when the learners get their licence, they now are legal and free to drive anywhere but have only ever been driving on the test route.
Many testing officers rarely test the new students on a freeway or highway.
There is a lot that can be added in this regard, as well as things like skid control, aquaplaning, emergency lane changes, sudden braking, and other real-life experiences that drivers will face in the course of their duties.
It does not show a student how to deal with an emergency situation. An emergency brake sometimes is part of the test but that is at a very basic level and sometimes very rare.
As long as you can apply the driving techniques, you will pass this test, but it doesn’t cover aspects such as driver awareness, thinking defensively (for yourself and others), anticipation skills or what to do in an emergency, should you lose control of the vehicle.
Something as simple as braking distance is not covered. Drivers have no idea how a vehicle will react if you hit the brakes hard at different speeds and how many metres it will take for the vehicle to come to a standstill.
Very little real-world driving is included such as driving at higher speeds on freeways and highway driving in adverse conditions, driving with a loaded vehicle or driving at night. Bearing in mind that the act of driving constitutes 25% practical and 75% mental processes, the test is unable to assess the mental element comprehensively given the constraints in time and capacity.
Drivers’ attitudes and behavior are not addressed, and that is fundamentally where younger drivers go wrong.
A driver’s license should not be the ultimate finality, it should only be a step in the journey for one to become a professional truck driver.
Professional truck driving should be professional in every sense
Professional truck driving should be treated as a separate skill that requires additional specific training.
That training should be structured on the types of trailers and goods they convey.
The Conveyance of Dangerous Goods by Road course, as an example, is designed to meet driver training requirements of Chapter V and Chapter VIII of the National Road Traffic Act, Act 93 of 1996. The purpose of learning is to ensure safe loading, conveying and off-loading of dangerous goods according to legal and organisational requirements.
This training should not be limited to the conveyance of dangerous goods. Special training should be provided by authorities for all people driving special types of trailers including abnormal loads.
Most Major companies transporting mineral ores from mines have adopted the use of abnormal trucks, is there proof that they have been properly trained to handle an ultra heavier vehicle. That training and certification should be given and proof of such should be provided to the traffic authorities should they demand it.
The government seemingly has left that responsibility to logistics companies to provide further training. Some companies in pursuit of profit margins pay less care to driver skill advancement programs.
Manline Freight (Pty) Ltd, Oakley Group amongst other companies provide ongoing intermittent refresher courses to their drivers and their trucks seldom get into crashes.
Oakley Group is equipped with a real-life Volvo truck simulator, where drivers are put to the test under different road and weather conditions, including training to adequately steer a runaway truck safely into an arrestor bed. Something that would be otherwise impossible under practical conditions.
Cumbersome as it maybe, but the government should take more responsibility and credit in making the roads safer by producing properly qualified trained drivers.
Remember a truck is a killing weapon in the hands of an inexperienced driver. Written by Freethinker Jo
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and they do not necessarily reflect that of SA Trucker.