In their efforts to take care of their families and making sure you and I have our daily supplies, truck drivers in South Africa navigate through very dangerous situations and many who are not lucky enough pay a dear price for it. Some have died and some left incapacitated in the process of making life easier for the citizens. There are many factors that put the drivers at risk, which we will explore below to show you how dangerous, truck driving is.
Long distance truckers are mainly at risk as their first enemy, fatigue, is always waiting to pounce at the first available opportunity. It is more dangerous because it’s not only the fatigue on the particurlar driver’s part that may end up causing a crash but his mates that he is sharing the road with. This means you may not be safe even if you yourself always makes sure you get enough rest before and during your trips.
The National Bargaining Council Road Freight Industry (NBCRFI) permits drivers to work a maximum of 30 hours overtime a week on top of the normal nine hours a day, six days a week. This translates into five additional hours a day or 14 hours a day. That is too long for any employee but because of the nature and importance of the job, truck drivers have to put up with those conditions.
Who is to blame?
Drivers are meant to get the same breaks as any other employee. However, some employers make this impossible by unnecessarily setting targets for them which may only be achieved by sacrificing these breaks and or speeding, drive on N3 freeway to prove this for yourself. Such distracted driving on a ‘not-well-rested’ driver is a healthy recipe for disaster.
Some employers make it even worse by paying their drivers on a commission basis, which means their drivers force themselves to fit in additional hours. Those additional hours may result in driver fatigue and eventually cause even a fatal crash.
Fatigue is not easy to prove in an accident investigation hence many accidents reports we get only tell of the final stroke that caused the crash but not much is said of underlying causes or push factors leading to the crash.
How then can a professional truck driver protect himself from other drivers who are prone to fatigue? We may never find an answer to this question until authorities legislate fatigue monitoring.
Truck hijackings on South African roads are a common problem that refuses to go away. Trucking companies use trackers to monitor their truck whereabouts but that has not stopped the robbers from targetting the trucks, going to the extent of devicing ways to jam the trackers. The driver’s prayer is when they pounce they at least leave him alive and take whatever they want. That however, has not been the case in some cases because even after taking their loot the robbers have proceeded to kill their victims.
When a driver feels tired before he makes it to the next stop he cannot risk stopping anywhere on the road because these hijackers patrol their routes day and night. It takes us back to fatigue again as the driver is forced to push himself to drive to get to the next safe place again praying that he makes it.
The hijackers use every means possible to catch you with some even using police uniforms, cars or equipment to stop you.
Having a breakdown in many of our highways is a first step to being robbed. The highway robbers monitor when you stop and how long you have stood on the same place before pouncing.
While the robbers’ main aim is to loot your truck, if they think you will disturb them or if you try to stop them you could easily loose your life. A driver was killed while parked in a truck stop after he woke up to find robbers stealing tyres from his truck recently.
Drivers have actually now learnt that if you have a breakdown in some highway stretches you would rather hide far away from your truck and wait for the mechanic.
Some of the robbers pose as hitch hikers and as soon as they enter your truck they demand all your belongings, any form of resistance could get you killed. In June a Durban driver who was driving to Cape Town was killed at Mooi River, reports at the time suggested he had picked up hitch hikers who later turned against him.
These are just a few things that could get a truck driver killed on our highways and if you look at the frequency at which they happen you count yourself lucky to get home safe after each trip.