On Thursday evening October 7th, FleetWatch joined the Road Safety Foundation at the Tugela Plaza on the N3 for its first major Transport Research Forum project directed at the trucking industry. The aim of the project was to identify the percentage of heavy vehicles with illegal or inadequate visibility components. The full story and results of the project appear inside this issue and although the results were far from pleasing, there is another side to the story.
One of the things that stood out for me watching the more than 1 000 trucks pass through the north bound lanes of the plaza over an eight hour period was the large number of really good looking, roadworthy trucks on the road. It is clear that there are so many operators and drivers out there who take huge pride in their trucks and their operations.There was a stage during the night when I took time out and stood on the edge of the activities just watching the trucks pass by. It was an amazing sight and bore testimony to the fact that trucks truly are the wheels of the South African economy. Waves and waves of trucks kept arriving with up to 20 or so big rigs waiting in line at times to pass through the plaza. And that was only on the north bound side. Going down to Durban through the south bound lanes of the plaza were hundreds more. And that was only on the N3. I thought of all the thousand and thousands of other trucks travelling on the N1, N2, N4 and all the roads around South Africa that night.
Thinking of this and watching those passing in front of me gave me an enormous sense of pride of being involved in this industry. While the majority of South Africa’s citizens were tucked comfortably in their beds, many thousands of truck drivers were out there hauling the goods that make this country tick. I thought of those who decry truckers as being the lowlife of society; and of those politicians who , normally for opportunistic rather than practical reasons , call for the movement of goods from road to rail implying that trucks are the cause of all the ills out on our roads. It irks the heck out of me when I hear certain politicians pointing to trucks as the cause of all road damage when they know full well that provincial governments have failed dismally in maintaining their roads for normal wear. A truck is a big thing so it’s an easy target to apportion blame so as to deflect attention away from the real truth of provincial incompetence.
I thought of such people and I just wished they could have been there with me watching these fine people doing such a fine job of work for the country. It is not an easy job. You are away from home and family and are out there on your own in charge of a huge rig which, with the load, is worth millions of Rand. And it is all in the hands of one dedicated driver. I also wished such people could be with me to speak to some of the drivers. To come face to face with these fine citizens who contribute more to the economy than the fat-cat ‘˜tenderpreneurs’ and other well-heeled money grabbers we read of everyday who do nothing but rape the coffers of this economy using well-placed connections to solicit work they are nowhere near qualified to do but get paid millions to do it anyway. Compared to the ‘˜lowly’ truck driver, these guys are the lowest of low life. One hard-working truck driver is worth a hundred of them.
I thought too of the many back-up staff sitting in operations rooms in trucking companies all around the country co-ordinating the movement of the trucks and being there to provide back-up support when the drivers need it. And those dedicated people in the vehicle tracking control rooms who vigilantly track the movement of trucks on their computer screens and react with urgency when an ‘˜off-route’ alarm goes off indicating a possible hijack. I recall one of these guys telling me that he often phones the drivers of his clients just to have a chat , to let the drivers know that there is someone out there who cares for them.
I thought too of the many truck owners who sleep with their cell phones close at hand ready to jump out of bed to deal with any emergency or deviation from plan. Also out there every night are the tow-truck guys, the emergency services, the paramedics (see story inside this issue), the toll plaza staff and thousands of other backup and support staff around the country who are there , collectively and individually , to keep the wheels of this industry and the economy rolling.
The problem with the arm-chair critics is that they never see, let alone think, of any of this. They never see it because they are never out there at night when this industry really buzzes. To fully grasp the excellent work done by the long-haul sector of the industry, one has to get out there at night and I just wish more people could be exposed to this , including customers who get out of their comfortable beds in the morning after a good night’s sleep, enjoy a nice family breakfast with the wife and kids and then hit the office where the first call they make is to the transporter bemoaning the fact that the goods are half-an-hour late.
They don’t know , and certainly don’t care , that the trucks carrying the goods during the night were caught up in a dangerous 10 meter visibility mist that slowed truck traffic down to a crawl. Customers need to catch a big wake-up when it comes to just what this industry does for them , and how many dedicated people are involved in getting the goods to them on time. They just might begin to appreciate it that little bit more. The same applies to politicians and all others who are fast to criticize this industry without any knowledge of the workings of this industry.
It is also because of all this that FleetWatch takes the stance it does against what I call trucking profiteers , the guys who are out there operating shoddy, unmaintained rigs in their pursuit of making a quick buck at the expense of the image of this industry and certainly at the expense of road safety. One of them is highlighted inside this edition. I just don’t want the ‘˜rest’ to think that’s all we see.
FleetWatch always has , and always will , stand proudly behind the truckers of South Africa for the good work they do. We will not, however, stand behind those truckers who taint the industry through their shoddy practices; nor will we stand behind those outside of the industry who decry trucking based on their ignorant perceptions of the industry. We’re proud of being a part of this industry , and will continue fighting for its good reputation. In our eyes, you are Super Stars!