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Should trucks be banned off our roads?

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Calls are increasing on national government to ban trucks on the N1 during peak hour traffic, amid public outcry over the continued carnage on our roads. The debate has resurfaced following yesterday’s horrific truck crash on the N1 at the Koeberg interchange, in which a truck container flattened a motor vehicle. Two passengers in the car died on the scene, while truck driver later succumbed to his injuries in hospital. It’s alleged the truck driver lost control because he was speeding. The accident resulted in a traffic gridlock for hours as motorists were diverted onto alternative routes.

Speaking to VOC Breakfast Beat on Thursday, the City of Cape Town’s Mayco member for Safety and Security JP Smith said the increase in road accidents in the city was alarming.  Smith said City authorities have proposed that truck drivers limit their operations during peak hour due to congestion. Accidents involving large trucks losing their load have a massive impact on the traffic operations.

But while urgent intervention is necessary at a national government level, the broader issue is around driver competency.

“We need to find a way to test driver competency more regularly or make sure that drivers have a minimum time on the road before they can haul certain types of freight. I think it’s a challenge for the freight companies to find competent truck drivers but it’s a major concern on our roads,” he said.,

“Imagine the tragedy for those families. In the morning, you see your loved ones go off to work. And you think you’ll see them after work. But then you see that photo on social media.”

But Stan Bezuidenhout, a forensic road traffic collision reconstruction expert, believes banning tracks from the N1 is a “knee jerk reaction than a real solution”. He explained that removing trucks from highways could result in freight companies using roads near schools, businesses and residential premises, which could have an equally dangerous effect.

“We need to determine why this truck fell over at this particular location and why so many other trucks pass by safely. If we ban trucks from here, we will delay the drivers, frustrate them and make them drive slower. And then they will take those intentional human actions to mitigate that delay and driver faster within areas where we don’t want them,” he explained.

“Highways are built for traffic and installed for traffic to flow. If traffic flow is addressed, there shouldn’t be traffic friction. If traffic friction exists, moving the heavy commercial highways will place them in roads not designed for transport in their category.”

With regards to the quality of driver testing, he said most tests are designed to establish that an individual is able to operate a particular class of vehicle. The tests are not designed for drivers to manage emergency situations.

“Nowhere in the driver training do we include the assessment of road conditions under particular traffic patterns. If you want to get your driving licence for a truck, you typically have to remember things that do not affect driving directly. Then you have a minimum set of exercises you must complete under ideal conditions in a safe environment.”

Bezuidenhout believes simulated emergency should become part of truck driver training and emergency situation assessment vehicle dynamics and road design. He said he used Google earth to establish that within the radius of Koeberg road interchange, most cars should be able to travel around the bend and join the N1 between 85 and 100 kilometres per hour without much incident.

“If you look at the truck involved yesterday’s accident, and we look at the limitation on that driver, the truck should have been able to negotiate that bend at 70 or 80 kilometres per hour without incident. If you have truck roll over within that design of highway, the problem is that the truck driver is trying to follow traffic. He is not using a risk mitigation strategy based on his vehicle under the prevailing road conditions,” he explained.

“The problem is that many truck drivers drive trucks like they drive cars. And a truck is not a car. You need to be aware of the centre of mass, the rollover moment, the vehicle design and have proper training.”

Last year Transport for Cape Town (TCT), the City’s transport authority, conducted a status quo assessment of freight transport which revealed that:
-there is significant growth in road-based freight along Cape Town’s major roads due to the growth in fast-moving consumer goods worldwide
-rail’s share of freight has dramatically declined
-the Port of Cape Town, the major generator of freight, has expansion plans to roughly triple its current container handling services in the next 20 years
-overloading of freight vehicles has a significant impact on the road network, leading to roads deteriorating prematurely
-the city’s roads are congested for many hours of the day and freight transport exacerbates the situation
-overloading and freight-related transgressions are not adequately addressed, penalties are low, and self-regulation is rarely embraced
-noise and air pollution from freight operations are reason for concern
-the transportation of dangerous goods (hazardous materials) is uncontrolled and insufficiently regulated

Smith said he would make a concerted effort through the inter-governmental mechanisms to engage on this matter urgently. VOC

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