Going The Distance

Road safety is a big concern in South Africa – and even more for truckers who spend all their working hours on the roads. Georgina Guedes tells us how the industry is using technology to make time on our highways safer for all drivers.

Long-distance truck driving is one of the more dangerous professions in the world, with a high rate of illness and injury for drivers. South Africa is no exception, with, according to the Electronic National Administration Traffic Information System (eNaTIS), 4.9 million licensed heavy-duty drivers in South Africa, and 418 000 heavy-duty vehicles on our roads in 2016.

Truck drivers are at risk (and pose a risk to others) for a number of reasons. Not the least of these are the long hours that they drive on the roads, and the sedentary lifestyle factors related to the amount of time they spend in the driver’s seat.

Technology advances

“The large number of heavy vehicles on our roads makes it imperative that measures are put in place to reduce the number of accidents involving trucks,” says Morné Stoltz, MiWay’s head of business insurance.

These measures involve a combination of technology and legislation that support the health and effectiveness of truck drivers on the roads. Stoltz believes that the enforcement of safety regulations is only part of the solution, and that the industry as a whole needs to commit to truck driver safety and health, not only for compassionate reasons, but because it makes business sense.

“Fewer accidents and delays will help logistics companies to improve their operating costs and enhance their reputation with satisfied customers,” says Stoltz. “Improved safety precautions are also likely to lead to lower insurance premiums, particularly as on-board ‘black boxes’ become standard in heavy vehicles.”

As an example, he says that the compulsory use of retarders to augment the primary braking systems on heavy vehicles could help prevent the frequent accidents caused by the overheating of brake friction pads on long, steep passes.

He says that such a requirement would have to go hand in hand with stringent and uniform enforcement. “If the whole industry does not buy into the idea, and it is not enforced properly, those operators who do install retarders will actually be disadvantaged because they are incurring higher overheads,” he says.

Cargo theft and “truck-jacking” are another challenge facing the trucking industry in South Africa. Vehicle-tracking and fleet-management solutions specialist Ctrack has put in place technology with the ability to detect signal jamming from criminals. Signal jamming is used to prevent the truck from communicating its position via cellular networks or satellite. Once the system is jammed, they hijack the vehicle, move it to a new location and offload the cargo.

“With signal jamming becoming a reality, we are now able to offer our customers the option of installing a non-GSM jamming detection module as part of their fleet-management system to ensure continuous visibility,” says Hein Jordt, MD of Ctrack Fleet Management Solutions.

Modern trucks built with driver safety in mind now offer automated shift transmissions, which remove gearshift stress, as well as ABS. These include ABS braking system, and standard power steering to reduce strain on drivers.

Speaking at the TruckX and FleetX conference last year, Morne Janse van Rensburg, CEO of VSc Solutions, said that trucks had become a mobile node in the Internet of Things (IoT), with trucking companies and drivers benefiting from IoT logistics data that was now available to them from mobile devices in the cab.

“Drivers can use linked devices to help them do their jobs faster and safer. Think mobile apps for task management, training on the go, and trend reporting to business intelligence dashboards,” he said.

He added that the cost of hardware and connectivity had dropped significantly in recent years, while cloud processing had become affordable and accessible to all sizes of businesses. “All this is driving IoT and opens up the possibility of connecting just about anything.”

Also at the conference, Ctrack’s Jordt said: “The implication of the IoT is that telematics is able to perform at a whole new level. Among this is automating business process for improved quality and lower costs, applying analytics to the entire logistics value chain, and optimising how systems, assets and people integrate to work together. Now more than ever, fleet owners should embrace the advancements in telematics technology in order to be fully prepared when the wave of digitalisation fully hits.”

Engaging with industry bodies

Industry bodies have a role to play in creating a framework for the resolution of trucking industry concerns.

“The authorities need to listen to what the industry has to say in order to understand the realities of operations and tackle the  shortcomings of the systems. In this way, fair and effective policing (or application of legislation) takes place,” says Gavin Kelly, technical and operations manager of the Road Freight Association of South Africa. “You cannot fix issues by adding more legislation.”

A significant player in this space is the National Bargaining Council for the Road Freight and Logistics Industry (NBCRFLI). It has created Trucking Wellness, a primary healthcare delivery programme dedicated to the wellness of those employed in the road freight and logistics industry.

The programme has been described as a sterling example of a successful and sustainable public-private partnership in that it is funded by the NBCRFLI together with various partners who, likewise, have the aim of addressing the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the industry.

Trucking Wellness was launched in 1999 to create awareness around HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases among long-distance truck drivers, commercial sex workers and those at risk, including drivers’ children and spouses. It provides a holistic approach to health and wellness, encompassing a range of free primary healthcare services, ranging from condom distribution to blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol screening, to TB and malaria awareness.

These services are offered through a blend of five mobile wellness clinics and 22 fixed wellness centres staffed by registered nurses and counsellors and situated on all major trucking routes.

Mercedes-Benz South Africa is a partner of the Trucking Wellness initiative and has included a module on wellness, health-seeking behaviour, disease prevention and basic disease information into its driver training facilitated in Zwartkop. The module also includes information on trucking wellness and the 22 roadside wellness centres. Each truck driver attending the training receives a booklet and a document folder with information on disease prevention, as well as a map of the trucking wellness centres for healthcare assistance when required. The drivers receive accurate information on where to seek help with any health-related issues they may encounter in a non-discriminatory environment where their privacy will be maintained and confidentiality upheld.

Another industry body that should soon be making its voice heard on issues of health and safety is the Emerging Truckers Association of South Africa (TASA), which was founded by women who are active role players in the transport and logistics business sector. The aim of the association is to facilitate transformation and make it possible for emerging roleplayers to thrive in the industry.

“TASA intends to play a role of influence within the supply chain, by changing the current status quo within the truck towing services, maintenance, sales and distribution, logistics, fuel supply, tyres supply and fitment, truck parts and spares, financing of trucks, stock exchange, bargaining council, fleet-management systems, tracking services, panel beating, and so on. It will entrust members to provide these services including tax filing, accounting and bookkeeping, as well as address truck safety issues,” TASA convener Mary Phadi said at the association’s launch last year.

While a lot is yet to be done in the trucking industry to improve the health and safety of drivers, there are a number of private and public organisations working to achieve this ideal. Hopefully, the future of trucking will be a healthier, safer environment for its employees.

Image: ©Shutterstock - 362078363
Image: ©Shutterstock - 362078363

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