Many readers will know of the FleetWatch Brake & Tyre Watch project which has been conducted with our much valued partners over the past five years. The project had been lauded as a world-leading exercise receiving much praise for the positive impact it has made in the industry – and this on many fronts. The primary aim is to educate traffic officials around the country on being able to spot signs of unroadworthiness on trucks so they can send ‘suspect’ trucks into a test centre for proper testing. While out on the road, traffic officials have no equipment to test trucks. What we show them is that all they need is their eyes, ears, nose and hands. Combined with the theoretical and practical knowledge imparted during the Brake & Tyre Watch training, these are all the tools they need to do their jobs professionally.
It is interesting to see the change in attitudes of the cops as the training progresses. Gathered together into a classroom on the first day, one picks up a vibe of scepticism as these men and women in uniform start the day out thinking: “What can these ‘malungus’ teach us that we don’t already know?” That attitude soon disappears as you ask who knows what a slack adjuster is, or a brake booster, or a load sensing valve – and only a few hands go up. Maybe, just maybe, they think, we have got something to impart. As the day proceeds, the attention is more rapt, the interaction more robust and the questions more forthcoming. By the end of that first day, you can see they are tired but motivated and ready for day two. What they go away with after that first day is not just knowledge on the workings of brakes, tyres, 5th wheels, axles and other safety critical components but also take with them a better appreciation of the wider role they play in society. They have never viewed their jobs as a vital contribution towards making South Africa a more robust economy and therefore more globally competitive, or towards improving the quality of life of all South Africans. They have never really thought of how, by doing their jobs in a professional manner, risks are minimised in the banking and insurance arenas with a spin-off positive effect of making more money available to fund growth instead of regression. Yes, we do deal with corruption and hit it hard on the head. In this context, we also deal with the public’s image of cops as them being only interested in sitting under a tree behind a speed camera and then soliciting a bribe to make the fine go away. Most importantly, we deal with death – 15 000 a year, 43 a day – and we take it beyond the mere body count that makes the road carnage in South Africa so impersonal. Statistics are necessary but they don’t really hit home on real truths. Often, if the statistics are high, one walks away from them thinking there is nothing one can do – and the status quo remains. If they are low, one shrugs them off as being irrelevant – not a problem. We therefore work on the power of one. One death is one too many and that one death is given a name. Who’s next? One of my family members? One of their family members? Who? Give the body a name and that person suddenly has a family, friends, loved ones. Seen in that light, you don’t want others bodies joining it.
All this is then put into context on the second, practical day when we gather at a test centre, divide the group into teams with each team having a team leader expert from our partner companies. We then haul trucks off the road so as to put the theory from the previous day into practise. Nervous as the first trucks come in, the cops gain confidence as their team leaders guide them around and under the rigs showing them the faults. It’s not long before they begin to take over showing their team leaders what they perceive as faults. “We want this one on the brake roller tester because we think the gap between the brake shoe and the brake drum is too big for it to brake. Those slack adjuster are not correctly set.” And then the absolute delight when a big FAIL sign lights up on the monitor proving their observation to be true. And the only tools they used to alert them to that potentially fatal flaw were their eyes combined with their new-found knowledge. Before the training, most of them would not have noticed it and that truck would have gone on without effective brakes, perhaps killing someone down the road.
It is all this, plus more, that has led to FleetWatch and its partners being thrilled that knowledge is being passed on that will lead to a reduction in the number of people killed on our roads and improve the standards of the industry and the traffic force. However, something that never hit us was brought home at our last exercise in Ekurhuleni. It was about 2.30pm on the second day of training when one of the lady cops came up to me and said: “Patrick, this has been a fantastic training project and I would like to thank you and all your partners for giving us back our dignity” WOW! That hit me right between the eyes. We have had cops thank us for their new found knowledge but read that again: “…for giving us back our dignity”. WOW again! I have given her statement so much thought and will revisit and enlarge on this in a future article but her statement says so much. It gives enormous food for thought and I am asking each of our readers to think about this. I am also asking the leaders of the cops to think about this. Sure Knowledge is Power but without ‘Dignity’, can that knowledge really be put to good use. “Thank you for giving us back our dignity” has put a whole new ‘spin’ on this exercise. It has elevated it to a new level. Wow!