What truck drivers fear most on South Africa’s roads

 ·13 Dec 2022

New data from Webfleet’s Road Safety Report for the year found that the leading cause of collisions on South African roads involving trucks is other road users.

According to the group, 33% of collisions resulted from other road users, such as passenger vehicles.

Webfleet reported that passenger drivers do not know how to share the roads safely with trucks. These findings are being backed up by in-cab video footage that is now widely used in trucks – showing the exact cause of collisions.

Not concentrating when driving or being distracted is the second highest cause of collisions in the trucking sector. According to Webfleet, 21% of all incidents surveyed resulted from distracted driving.

The survey conducted by Webfleet represented large and small companies carrying a broad spectrum of goods for a wide variety of industry sectors, including fuel, consumer goods, long-haul freight, timber, waste management and more. Fleet sizes ranged from 3,500 vehicles.

Over the last year, 71% of respondents indicated that they had been involved in road crashes during a one-year period. “Just four companies went the whole year without a crash,” said Webfleet.

The company provided the following graph indicating the main causes of vehicle accidents in the trucking industry:

Following other road drivers and distractions, driver fatigue is also a major cause of collisions. The report showed that 12% of all collisions were a result of driver fatigue. Speeding and reckless driving resulted in 7% of collisions, respectively. Poor road conditions made up another 7%, drunk driving 4% and pedestrians 1%.

Road users a danger

Commenting on the findings, several industry leaders and experts in the trucking space expanded on why road users pose such a threat to truck drivers.

On top of road users behaving recklessly around trucks – as evidenced by in-cab footage – the dangers are exacerbated by the physics involved. Many trucks haul weighty cargo, which alters the forces at play when trucks need to manoeuvre.

Truck stability is largely dictated by physics, the experts said. The high centre of gravity; offset centre of gravity; inertia or momentum; and weight differentials all factor into the equation when trying to control the vehicle.

So when a reckless driver forces a truck driver to react on the road – sudden braking, swerving to avoid a collision or any other defensive manoeuvre – the vehicles become incredibly difficult to control.

“On the point of ‘other road users’ being cited by respondents as a prime cause of truck crashes, hard evidence provided by in-cab cameras – now widely used in the has dispelled the widely-held myth that it is always the trucker’s fault,” the experts said.

“Certainly, there are some reckless, miscreant truck drivers who should not be on the road, but what this survey reveals is that there is a need for an educational campaign to engender greater awareness among all road users in sharing the roads safely and in harmony.”

Concerns over road safety

The truck fleet’s major concerns regarding road safety include unroadworthy vehicles, poor road conditions, lack of policy, protests and lack of sufficient training, reported Webfleet.

“A major concern by respondents is the poor maintenance of heavy vehicles…Working trucks are randomly taken off the road and tested during the training of traffic officials.”

“Results up to 2019 showed that out of 764 trucks tested, 69% of those trucks failed due to a varying range of faults resulting from poor maintenance,” it said.

“Poor road conditions on roads, mainly off the main highways, is a concern expressed by many respondents who state they not only cause unsafe driving conditions but also cause damage to vehicles. Potholes are stated as particularly damaging and dangerous.”

Damage to vehicles and potholes makes trips take longer, which in turn contributes to driver fatigue and reduces transport productivity, said Webfleet.

South Africa has a road network of 750,000km, the tenth longest in the world; however, not all of it is managed by the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral).

According to Webfleet, Sanral only manages 21,403kms, provinces 47,300kms and 51,600kms managed by municipalities. Recent findings from the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) found that the country’s roads are in a bleak state.

SAICE reported that provincial roads in major urban areas paved provincial roads, and pave municipal roads are all at risk of failure. Provincial and municipal roads that are unpaved are completely unfit for purpose, added the group.

Read: Next-gen Ford Ranger launches in South Africa – here’s the pricing

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