The City of Johannesburg recently announced the arrest of seven licensing department officials for illegally allowing motorists to obtain drivers licenses, license discs, and for illegally registering their vehicles, resulting in a loss of R14.7 million for the City of Johannesburg.

The figure of R14.7 million, while material in terms of fraud, is but the tip of the iceberg in terms of the damage done to our economy. When unlicensed and untrained drivers take to the roads, they not only place their lives at risk but also the lives of all other road users.

The municipality’s investigation further determined that the problem was not limited to Johannesburg. The report estimated that fraudulent transactions to the value of R155-million were made nationally between January 2008 and February 2016.

Arrive Alive figures suggest that 27.5% of accidents on our roads are caused by trucks and light delivery vehicles. Truck accidents accounted for 4.8%.

The most common factors contributing to road accidents include unroadworthy vehicles, bursting tyres, speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol and overtaking when it is unsafe to do so.

The direct cost to the economy was recently estimated at R306 billion, which includes clearing accident scenes, hospital care and police time. There are also the indirect costs of work hours lost and delayed delivery and damaged cargos. This cost is materialising in higher vehicle insurance premiums charged by insurance companies.

While no single approach can improve truck driver competency, there are solutions to reducing the number of accidents involving commercial vehicles: a combination of regular driver evaluation and corrective training, fleet technology monitoring systems, and close management of driver schedules to prevent fatigue and negligence.

Drivers should be subjected to a thorough background check, and have their competency evaluated and their weaknesses addressed through training. Equally important, each driver is managed by their allocated site supervisor to address potential issues that may hamper performance, productivity, and safety.

Many logistics firms struggle to fill their quota of drivers, which often forces managers to demand longer working hours from them, resulting in fatigue. It also means they cannot be taken off their shift for necessary refresher training.

Fatigue affects truck driver competency in various ways, from slowed reaction time to lack of concentration. If a driver’s reaction time is just half a second slower while driving at 40km/h, it may take two car lengths longer to stop.

Statistics suggest that drivers who have not slept for 17 hours are comparable to drivers with a 0.05 blood alcohol level. Someone who has not slept for 24 hours has the same driving impairment as someone with 0.10 blood alcohol levels. Yet fatigued driving does not receive the same level of police attention or legal consequences as a driver under the influence of alcohol.

Less fatigue and fewer accidents mean a decline in delays, increased productivity and an improved bottom line. These assist logistics companies to improve their operating costs and enhance their reputation, among customers. It also leads to lower insurance premiums.

The trucking industry is a vital cog in the efficient operation of the South African economy, which is why improving truck driver competency and the safety record of the industry is so important.

We, therefore, call on all the major role-players such as the Department of Transport, organized labour, logistics and insurance companies, and the drivers themselves to commit to a strategy that will better the conditions for everyone.

Managing drivers’ competency can boost economy

Truck driver competency can strengthen economy