It seems to have been a torrid year for trucking. While all the good stuff that happens in the industry seldom hits the headlines, the bad stuff always makes it onto the front pages of the national – and at time international – media. That’s the way news works unfortunately. The problem is that because trucking is unrecognised for the vital role it plays in the economy and in every South African’s life, the bad stuff tends to spill over and cover the entire industry. Trucking truly is a Cinderella in the eyes of all – including Government – and it’s been like that for as long as I can recall. It’s nonsense, of course, but when one combines its Cinderella status with the large number of totally unprofessional owners and drivers in the industry, it makes for a recipe that no-one wants to go near. In fact, many want it totally off the table – thus the increasingly vocal calls from the public to ‘ban trucks from the road and move all goods to rail’. Never do the people making these calls consider that there is not a railway line in the world that will allow a train to operate with the same flexibility and agility of a truck. Take trucks off the road and put all goods onto rail and the economy dies – overnight. That’s the reality but it is not recognised. It’s actually a stupid call often made by supposedly intelligent people – like politicians. Oops! Sorry. That ‘intelligent’ bit was a typing error.
What is widely recognised is that ‘one’ truck hits into 48 cars, kills three people, injures countless others and causes absolute havoc. What stays in people’s minds is that ‘one’ truck loses it going down Field’s Hill and kills 24 people. What disgusts people is that ‘one’ truck travelling on the N1 smashes a giraffe’s head against an overlying bridge killing it. Those are just three examples of national events involving trucks that leave such a bitter taste in people’s mouths. And when they spit the sour taste out, they direct the spit at the entire industry. On a regional level, trucks are involved on a daily basis in crashes that result in the death of their drivers and other road users. However, because life is so cheap in South Africa, these don’t make the headlines. You need at last 24 bodies – preferably with body parts scattered in all directions – to get attention. Or ever better – a bus load of kids. That’s a good one for catching attention. Everyone gets out of bed for that one – including the politicians whose clarion call will be “we must stop the carnage”. The point is: We should have stopped the carnage ages ago but to do so, everyone has to walk their talk. Expressions of outrage and disgust coming from higher echelons whenever a high profile crash occurs are absolutely meaningless. What we need is a daily focus on doing it right. I mean, how can an operator offer a cop a R500 bribe to release his truck after it has been impounded for having no brakes? (See page 18). And how can a cop accept a bribe of R500 to let that truck go. And R500 is a big number. I heard of one cop letting a totally unroadworthy taxi go for a mere R20. How do these people sleep at night? What do they see when they look in the mirror? I am so sick of it all. Maybe I should just forget about it all and focus on making money. Go out and get companies to pay me to write glowing reports on them which ignore reality but have a fat cheque attached to them. It’s a far cushier world that the one FleetWatch operates in. Here’s the reality.
The morale of the trucking industry is down. The drivers are gat-vol. Our own FleetWatch driver correspondent – a man who loved truck driving chalking up over 3,5-million kms in over 15 years as a professional driver – has left the profession. Why? For a number of reasons but the main one being that in his experience, it has got just too dangerous out there. “There are too many unroadworthy trucks and unqualified drivers out there and I have a family I love that I want to go home to,” he told me He now, ironically, works for Truck & Cargo, a company which is contracted by insurance companies to recover accident damaged trucks and loads. And they are busy, every day. Yes, there is good news in the industry. Iveco, for example, has just opened an R800-million assembly plant in Rosslyn Pretoria. Hatfield Truck & Bus has just opened a world-class dealership in Pretoria. Truck manufactures are bringing into the country the best that the world has to offer in terms of new technology trucks. The Road Transport Management System (RTMS) is being adopted by many transport operators who are striving for Best Practise. There are many positive things going on out there. However, it takes just that ‘one’ truck to hide all this. How are we going to get rid of that one truck? Maybe that should be our goal for 2015. At FleetWatch, we’re already working on it – simple because like with HIV/AIDS back in 1994, we can no longer stomach the talk. We need action.
To all our readers and advertisers, FleetWatch wishes you a Happy and Safe Festive Season. May all your vehicles be roadworthy and may all the vehicles sharing the road with you and your families be roadworthy. Please get back safe. We luvya all.