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. We were shocked at the results writes Patrick O’Leary.
The Road Safety Foundation (RSF) is a body started some time ago by Philip Hull of Community Medical Services and Petro Kruger, formerly of the AA, to tackle issues pertaining to road safety in South Africa. The original intention was to embark on projects which would help change the mindsets and habits of road users getting them to adopt a more positive attitude towards safety on the roads.
After a major funding let-down, plans had to be altered and Hull and Kruger had two choices – either shelve the RSF or go ahead by tapping into their own personal funds. With Hull’s commitment to road safety firmly entrenched via his over 25-years hands-on experience as a paramedic on the road, and Kruger’s solid commitment via years of working in the road safety arena, they decided to go ahead using their personal funds, albeit on a more scaled down basis than originally envisaged. Although initially focused on all road users, they decided to form a Transport Research Forum as part of the RSF to tackle issues specifically pertaining to the trucking industry. “We often talk of ills in the trucking industry but trying to get a handle on actual statistics relating to these ills is difficult. It is thus we embarked on the Forum as a means of identifying and quantifying problems as a start-off point to fixing them,’ he says. In forming the Forum, Hull gathered together three main partners to work with them on various projects and FleetWatch is privileged to have been chosen as one of them. Of course, we readily agreed as we are firmly behind anything that improves safety in our industry.
The other two on-going partners are the N3TC , an avid and enthusiastic supporter of road safety – and the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC). Also partnering the RSF on this particular project were the KwaZulu-Natal Road Traffic Inspectorate from the Ladysmith area. The truck visibility project held at Tugela Plaza was the first of the Transport Research Forum’s projects.
With this as background, the partners gathered together at the Tugela Plaza on the N3 at around 5.30pm on Tuesday October 7th to get ready for the 6.00pm kick-off time. The original intention was to work a full 12 hour shift from 6.00pm on October 7th through to 06.00am on October 8th. However, it was cut short at 1.45am when the rain stopped play. So the actual exercise was conducted over 7 hours and 45 minutes. The modus operandi was to position a spotter team of two people with radios on the south side of the plaza who would spot trucks with defective lighting. They would then radio the cops on the north side of the plaza who would then stop the identified truck once it went through the tollgate and do a full check.
Note that the exercise was to check all visibility components of the trucks and thus included not only the front headlights, rear taillights and indicators but also the high visibility reflective tape on the sides and rear, the rear chevron and the possession of at least one warning triangle. Obviously, the indicators and warning triangles were only checked on the trucks which were stopped for lighting defects. The sheer volume of trucks coming through was just too much for each truck to be stopped for those two points alone. And here are the results compiled by the RSF….
During the period from 6.00pm to 1.45am, a total of 1 074 heavy vehicles moved through the Tugela Plaza in a northern direction. Of these, 124 were identified with defective visibility components. This equates to 11,55% of the total number of heavy trucks that passed through the Tugela toll Plaza that had defective lights.
Of the 124 vehicles that were stopped, 91 were confirmed to have warning triangles on board. This equates to 73,39% of heavy trucks that were stopped, having a warning triangle.”By law, trucks have to carry a warning triangle in case of on-the-road breakdowns so operators please take note and check that your trucks each have one,’ says Hull. The good news is that no vehicles were seen to have either illegal or lack of rear chevron plates. The bad news is that although all trucks had high visibility tape applied, some of it was in desperate need of being cleaned while there were others bearing broken up and tatty tape which needed urgent replacing.
Seven of the trucks that were stopped for defective lights were observed arriving at the Tugela toll plaza with emergency flashers operating as their rear tail lights were inoperable. This appears to be an acceptable option to some drivers but it wasn’t to the RSF on the night. Those trucks that had downright dangerous lighting defects , such as no rear lights at all – were fined and then sent to the near-by Tugela Truck Inn to have their lights fixed before being allowed to continue their journey. Although the main aim of the project was on visibility, there were one or two trucks which were served with Discontinuation of Services notices for being totally unroadworthy with bald tyres, defective brakes, expired license discs and other issues. One was in a really horrible condition and was sharing the road with many thousands of other trucks. It was in a disgraceful state. May it never return to the road.
Commenting on the results, Hull says the defects were worse than expected and clearly shows that operators need to pay more attention to this vital safety area of their operations. “Checking lights and indicators should be standard procedure for every pre-trip vehicle inspection which, in turn, should be conducted by every driver of every truck every day. It is obvious that this is not done,’ he says.
FleetWatch can confirm this. At our Limpopo Brake & Tyre Watch exercise, only one out of 12 drivers could show his pre-trip vehicle inspection sheet. He was a driver from Unitrans. As for the rest of them, we had to explain what such a check list was.
Where are the suppliers?
FleetWatch has stated in the past that when the application of high visibility reflective tape was made law, it was probably the most successful implementation of a legal requirement ever seen in this industry. All operators complied and the suppliers were out there actively marketing their products and making mega-bucks.
The only company we see or hear of is a distributor of the tape, CI Automotive. Well done to them for their efforts. I know for a fact that despite a major supplier being invited to join us on one of our Brake & Tyre Watch exercises to see for themselves the need for a new awareness drive on reflective tape , which they did , we were told that not one penny of their marketing budget was directed at the trucking industry the following year. Not one penny! I also question where the lighting suppliers are out there. Never do we hear them talking to the industry or advising the industry on globe replacement or lighting maintenance. Truckers are not experts on lighting.
They are truckers moving the goods of South Africa , often against incredible odds – and they need help and advice when it comes to the correct functioning and maintenance of the components on their trucks. What does a driver do when a bulb pops out on the road? Have the suppliers advised operators to carry spare globes in the cabs , and do the drivers know how to change a globe? On this point, it was interesting to observe at the Tugela exercise that out of the 124 trucks taken off , some for a simple thing like a blown globe , only six were able to repair the defect to an acceptable operational status. FleetWatch technical correspondent, Dave Scott, once wrote that the best partners in your business are your suppliers and they are there to help you get things right. Yeah, well it doesn’t seem that way when it comes to reflective tape and lights.
This is not, by the way, a ploy to solicit advertising. I don’t care if these companies wipe FleetWatch off their advertising map forever for saying what I am saying here. What I do care about is that they get out there and do it for road safety and for their customers. Use our opposition magazines if you will but for goodness sake, do something! That’s said, the onus also falls on the operator to implement, as company policy, pre-trip vehicle inspections by their drivers. So often FleetWatch hears complaints about bad lighting on trucks. Almost everyone I know who has travelled long distance at night complains about it. The results from this project prove that these complaints are justified.
It has always baffled this writer that trucks can have defective lighting as it is just so easy to check. It’s not rocket science and you certainly don’t need an engineering degree or be a diesel mechanic to check them. They’re either on or off. It’s that simple. If they’re on, you drive. If they’re off, you get them fixed. Getting them fixed and general awareness of lighting and visibility issues should see the suppliers more involved. However, checking whether they work or not is the responsibility of the driver. On is: ‘˜She’s working’. Off is: ‘˜She’s broken’. That’s it. Simple!
Lights are a critical safety item for night driving. Not only do they light up the road ahead for the driver, but also warn following traffic of their presence on the road via tail-lights , and of the vehicle slowing down or braking via brake lights. Of course, indicators also warn on-coming and following vehicles when a truck is about to turn.
One might think defective lighting on 124 out of 1 074 trucks is not too bad. However, that was on the northbound lane only.
Add another 120 or so on the southbound lane and then another 50 or so for a 12 instead of seven and a half hour shift, and you’ve got around 300 trucks per night driving the N3 with defective lights. And that’s only on the N3.
Interesting to note that under the Lead SA campaign, a project has been started urging motorists to drive with their lights on at all times , even during the day. That’s good but only if your lights are actually working.
It infuriates me when I’m driving at night on some highway and come up against a truck or car or taxi with no tail lights. You just don’t see them until the last minute, It is no wonder then that Con Roux, commercial manager for the N3TC, says the majority of accidents on the N3 are head/tail incidents. That can stop if you ensure your trucks can be seen at night. Just do it!
Footnote: FleetWatch extends a huge congratulations to the Road Safety Foundation on this initiative. It is really value adding stuff and we sincerely hope operators take note of the results and act on them. As Hull says: “The Transport Research Forum was started as a means of identifying and quantifying problems as a start-off point to fixing them.’ Poor lighting has been identified as a problem. We urge operators to fix the problem. Hull also assures FleetWatch that now the problem has been identified and quantified, the RSF will now be working, in association with the industry, on suitable interventions to resolve the issues and affect improvements.
Support the Road Safety Foundation
And here’s a plea from FleetWatch to the industry: Funding is needed to sustain the activities of the Road Safety Foundation. If any company feels they can contribute to the Road Safety Foundation, please contact FleetWatch and we will direct you further. These people are doing excellent work. They need the support of the industry as they go forward in their efforts to try improve the safety of the industry. Let’s give them that support.
They are there for the industry. Let the industry be there for them!