Jun

Tolling could increase hazmat risk says specialist

2013-06-12 11:00
“Tolling urban freeways is inevitably going to drive heavy vehicles and hazardous cargoes into our suburbs and this is yet another reason that road building should be funded by an inexpensive fuel levy instead," says Rob Handfield – Jones

Defensive driving specialist and long-time tolling opponent, Rob Handfield , Jones, has raised concerns that SANRAL’s tolling of Gauteng’s freeways would increase the number of hazardous materials (hazmat) vehicles passing through residential areas as operators sought to avoid tolled roads.

He has reminded the public that one of the world’s greatest hazmat vehicle disasters involved a tanker truck driver using an alternative route to avoid a toll road.

“The Los Alfaques disaster in Spain was an appalling tragedy in the late 1970s in which hundreds of people were burned to death. And all because the driver of a tanker truck carrying flammable liquid had been instructed by his employer to use a rural route to avoid motorway tolls,’ he says.

The driver lost control of the vehicle next to the Los Alfaques camping ground on the east coast of Spain and crashed. The tanker ruptured, causing flammable gas to escape into the air and ignite. More than 200 people are known to have died, with over 200 more severely injured. A movie was made of the disaster.

Handfield , Jones says that if the disaster had occurred on the open motorway, the death toll would likely have been a fraction of what it was.

His view is that South African transport operators have a history of using alternative routes to cut out tolling costs despite SANRAL’s stance that using better-quality toll roads was beneficial to operators because such roads cause less vehicle damage.

“The problem is that vehicle repair costs can be deferred but tolls can’t, which is why some operators are happy to avoid tolled roads and run death-trap vehicles which are unlikely to be detected because of inadequate enforcement,” he says.

“Avoiding tolled routes is like overloading: it damages the vehicle but it increases cash flow and when times get tough, cash flow is a very valuable thing to an operator. I absolutely believe that the Gauteng toll roads will drive hazmat vehicles into the suburbs,” he says.

He expressed the view that a minimal number of vehicles carrying hazardous cargoes in suburbs was acceptable for essential purposes, such as delivering fuel to filling stations but that further vehicle volumes would be a needless risk.

“SANRAL will no doubt deny this but they can’t deny the potential consequences of a tanker full of LPG or 30 tons of petrol catching fire in a residential area,” he says. “Sasolburg nearly learned the hard way with its tanker crash and fire of 2011.”

Handfield – Jones says that if hazmat vehicles are encouraged to remain on freeways, not only is their risk of crashing lower but there is greater separation between them and the population, even in cases where freeways pass through built-up areas.

“Which is preferable: a burning tanker 100 metres away on a freeway or ten metres from a block of flats?” he asks. “Tolling urban freeways is inevitably going to drive heavy vehicles and hazardous cargoes into our suburbs and this is yet another reason that road building should be funded by an inexpensive fuel levy instead,” he concludes.

Latest Gazette

Still on the subject of e-Tolls, the Road Freight Association has sent to its members the latest gazette listing the new tariffs, discounts and related information now published. The gazette defines the process to be followed for the various organisations that wish to apply for exemption, as well as the necessary changes to the SANRAL Act for the envisaged process of administering E-tolls. Readers can access it here:

The RFA has requested its members to forward all comments to Gavin Kelly at gkelly@rfa.co.za by 17 June for inclusion in the reply to the Department of Transport.

The basic tariff structure for freight (with discounts and caps) has not been changed since the November 2012 gazette. The RFA says it will – in its comments – apply for further discounts.

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