Safe trucking starts behind the wheel

To improve vehicle performance and the safety of truck drivers and other road users, transport operators can invest in advanced or defensive driver training

In the transport industry, driver behaviour is crucial to road safety, but can also have an impact on fuel economy and vehicle performance. A driver who, for example, is prone to harsh braking will consume more fuel and wear out the brake pads more quickly. There are software solutions available to monitor driving behaviour, but the most effective response might be to provide drivers with training.

Through advanced or defensive driver training, companies can instil behaviour that will reduce the wear and tear on the vehicle, improve fuel economy and prevent accidents or hijackings. The latter is particularly useful following the recent spate of attacks on trucks.

The All Truck Drivers Forum caused chaos at the start of 2019 when targeting transport operators and setting trucks alight. They claimed this was in response to the employment of foreign truck drivers. Unfortunately, both foreign and local truck drivers were killed or injured when hundreds of vehicles were set alight.

According to the Road Freight Association’s estimates, 1 200 vehicles and cargo were destroyed with 213 fatalities, which cost the economy about R1,2 billion. After undergoing training, drivers are better equipped to respond to these emergencies – or prevent them entirely.

Advanced driving courses teach safer driver behaviour to instil confidence in the driver and reduce motoring costs. Some of the principles taught include sacrificing speed for safety; safely manoeuvring the vehicle in different environments and situations; and keeping the vehicle stable on the road.

These courses might also include training in steering techniques, manoeuvrability, skid correction, safe cornering, braking sense and overtaking techniques.

Defensive driving courses could be very beneficial for truck drivers and transport operators. Although similar to advanced driving, defensive driving is more focused on safe road use and can include training in collision and hijacking prevention.

While transport operators can gain the most from good driver behaviour, all industries in which employees drive company cars can benefit from advanced driver training. Atlas Security, for example, recently sent close to 100 staff members for defensive and advanced driver training at the Isuzu Driving Academy in Port Elizabeth.

According to Monty Montgomery, operations manager at Atlas Security, the company wanted to prevent costly damage as a result of driving on poor roads – a risk for the business as it expands beyond the city boundaries to communities living in and around Port Alfred and Alexandria.

“When under duress, the responding officers could potentially make mistakes,” Montgomery explains. “The aim is to make them more aware and better able to avoid accidents. Having participated in this course, the value of driver training is more evident. Atlas Security is now in a better position to get to clients in a timely manner and to do so safely.”

Atlas Security officer Leon Piennaar says: “Certain aspects of driving are forgotten when on the road every day. It was nice to brush up on some technical driving skills.”

In addition, transport operators can improve the safety of drivers and other road users by educating drivers on fatigue management, checks and vehicle maintenance, downhill vehicle control and general driver health and safety.

To further encourage and monitor driver behaviour, transport operators can also equip the vehicle with monitoring systems. Many of these monitor braking, acceleration and stops with camera footage included. Transport operators can monitor driver behaviour inside the vehicle and the environment outside with this camera footage – both of which are essential when investigating an incident and reporting on driver behaviour.

When a driver brakes harshly, external cameras can show whether he reacted to, for example, another vehicle swerving in front, while internal cameras can show whether the driver was distracted and failed to anticipate the behaviour of another vehicle.

More advanced systems might include lane-assist technology, which notifies the driver when the vehicle crosses into oncoming traffic; lane-change-assist technology, which notifies the driver of any vehicles in his blind spot when changing lanes; and geo-mapping, which notifies the transport operator when a driver veers off the planned route.

As autonomous driving technology advances, there will be more opportunities for transport operators to ensure the safety of their drivers and other road users. Whether the future of transport will be completely autonomous still remains to be seen.

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