Collaboration between all stakeholders in the road freight industry is critical to improving South Africa’s poor road safety record, certification body JC Auditors CEO Oliver Naidoo said at the 2023 Road Freight SME Summit in Johannesburg on October 20.
“We have to collaborate. We have to work together in addressing the problems on our roads – government, big corporates and small operators alike. We’ve got to take collective responsibility. Sadly, currently, the roads belong to everybody, and no-one takes accountability. ‘It’s not my problem. It’s a public road.’ We’ve got to address that kind of attitude, if we are to improve,” he said.
He said there was a greater need for companies contracting road freight operators to demand proof of good maintenance, roadworthiness of vehicles, good driver training, and safety systems being in place before signing.
Nadioo pointed out that, to get an idea of the scale of the problem, according to the N3 Toll Concession, there are 7 000 trucks a day travelling on the N3 between Johannesburg and Durban. This number is rising by a factor of about 10% every year.
He said that, according to road freight magazine Fleetwatch Brake and Tyre Initiative, which partners with road safety officials and law enforcement to conduct random inspections of the tyres and brakes of the thousands of trucks and buses travelling across the country, seven out of every 10 trucks inspected are discontinued.
“It’s a scary thought. For every 10 trucks that you pass on the roads, around seven of those should probably not be on the road networks. So, we have the situation where there is increasing risk on our roads. We need to understand that the impact of our businesses is not just an impact on our lives, but impacting the lives of people that we share the road with,” Naidoo implored.
He explained that, after carrying out audits on road transport companies for more than 15 years, JC Auditors noted five main safety issues that remain gaps in the industry.
Through its research, JC Auditors found that 9% of road freight companies failed to do proper pre-trip inspections, while 11% had problems with driver fatigue. Another 11% of the companies were frequently guilty of overloading their trucks. Most concerning was the 18% of companies that had repeated and ongoing problems with drivers committing speed violations. Additionally, inadequate driver training was noted 13% of the time.
Naidoo said it was incumbent on small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) operators to ensure that their operations addressed these gaps by implementing the right kinds of checks and balances.
“These factors ought to be built into the fabric, into the foundation, of SME road freight business. If a business is to be sustainable, you cannot go from a one- or two-truck operation to a 50- or 100-truck operation without understanding the need for these,” he said.
Naidoo said it was this concern surrounding the state of transportation safety and the risk it posed to both the drivers, the businesses they represented, and the general public, that led to JC Auditors opting to provide transport operators with free access to its online safety performance assessment tool in an effort to assist fleet operators, especially smaller fleets, which often lack the resources to evaluate their overall safety performance.
Announced in May, the online assessment would also enable an operator to identify its performance in relation to the Road Transport Management System (RTMS) National Standard.
The RTMS is a comprehensive framework designed to improve safety, efficiency and compliance within the transport industry. It consists of several key pillars, including load management, driver wellness, vehicle maintenance, journey management, and driving behaviour.
By making this online safety performance assessment tool accessible, Naidoo said transport operators would be better equipped to identify and mitigate risks, helping SMEs to perform more safely on the roads.
The assessment tool comprises a series of carefully crafted questions focusing on the key pillars of RTMS. Operators can complete the online evaluation, the results of which will be available in a report detailing key risks and recommended improvement actions.
“We need to build capacity in SMEs to embrace safety systems as an integral part of business. These kinds of tools should be built into the SME entrepreneur journey,” Naidoo said, emphasising the growing need to promote initiatives aimed at changing driving culture within the industry.
He said that more collaborative efforts such as this were needed to improve the competitiveness of South Africa’s road freight industry so that it could better sustain the country’s economy.
“We compete in a global economy and our supply chain is not efficient nor sustainable. If we cannot sell our goods and products on the global market, we suffer as a country, and each of us and our families bear the brunt of that,” Naidoo said.