Road safety is a critical component in providing transport infrastructure and South Africa’s record is disastrous. The numbers are only worsened when heavy vehicles such as trucks are involved. Safer trucks mean safer roads for all users. “We are seriously concerned that truck drivers tend to exceed the speed limit at several locations on the N3 route, even where special limits are in force, and often at night when enforcement is limited,” said Miles le Roux, traffic engineer at the N3 Toll Concession (N3TC). “In the first eight months of this year 179 injury crashes occurred on the N3 toll route alone, hurting 225 people. An astonishing 332 heavy vehicles were involved in these accidents that killed 12 people. At the N3TC traffic-monitoring site, near Cedara in KwaZulu-Natal, 65% of trucks were found to exceed the speed limit of 80kph. In Bergville, also in KwaZulu-Natal, 62% were also exceeding this speed limit,” Le Roux said. Last year 15 353 people died in motor vehicle accidents, which means that about 42 people died per day. This is according to the Road Traffic Management Corporation’s 2006 Interim Road Traffic and Fatal Crash Report. Statistics for December 2006 show that there were 114 fatal accidents involving trucks in one month. Analysis suggests that trucks directly caused about 34% of these accidents. Gavin Kelly, technical and operations manager of the Road Freight Association (RFA), said it is not true that trucks are responsible for a large proportion of accidents. “What does happen is that an incident involving a truck has a large impact on both the free flow of traffic, and the severity of damage. A truck colliding with smaller vehicles results in greater damage,” he said. “Most vehicles are fitted with advanced electronic monitoring equipment such as GPS systems to track routes and operation of the vehicle itself,” he said. Braking, speed and engine operation are monitored to ensure drivers stay awake and that the vehicle does not cross the centre line of the road. All truck drivers undergo basic driver licence training. Most operators then put drivers through a tailored training programme. “This can include advanced driving skills, loading issues as well as emergency systems. All drivers must hold a professional driving permit. In addition all operators and drivers are bound by the rules of the road plus operation requirements specific to the load carried, loading of vehicle, type of vehicle and the route to be followed,” said Kelly. Zamikhaya Maqolo, a truck driver from Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, who has been driving for 33 years, said drivers should check their vehicles before departure. “Before you leave you have to check things such as indicators, lights, brakes, oil, for safety measures. Some drivers do not even bother to do so.” Maqolo said alcohol and drug abuse are the main causes of accidents. “Some girls sell alcohol, dagga and mandrax to the drivers at certain stops. This contributes to a large number of accidents.” Kelly said some accidents involving trucks might be caused by alcohol abuse, but there are no supportive statistics to point towards this as being a common factor. Overloading and unroadworthy vehicles, he said, are other causes of accidents. Overloading can cause mechanical failure. “There have been a few cases solely attributed to this, but then the driver was also travelling too fast for circumstances and could not stop. This a practice favoured by foreign operators who seem to be immune to prosecution.” Loss of concentration can also cause accidents, said Kelly. The RFA has called for sufficient truck stops where drivers can rest and refresh themselves. “With the high level of crime, many drivers are too scared to do so and exhaustion can set in,” he said.