Monthly newsletters from the Vice Presidents of the HVTT Forum.

July 2023 Newsletter

Dear HVTT Forum subscriber,

The opening paragraph of Jonathan Regehr’s June newsletter made me think again of the desperate situation in which we find ourselves here in South Africa (and many other Developing nations) regarding road fatalities and serious injuries in general and, more specifically, for the HVTT community, such statistics involving heavy vehicles. The statistics are frightening and yet the majority of the population has become accustomed to the situation except for brief periods when a serious crash with a relatively high number of fatalities and serious injuries is publicised in the media.

Shortly after receiving Jonathan’s newsletter at the end of June, a crash involving a heavy vehicle and a minibus taxi occurred on the night of 2 July on a national highway in the Eastern Cape province resulting in 15 fatalities, including a two-year-old child and a two-month-old baby. It is alleged that the driver hit a stray animal and subsequently lost control of the vehicle, resulting in the trailer rolling over onto the taxi in the adjacent lane. The next morning a crash in Cape Town involving a bus and a minibus taxi claimed a further 5 lives. Four days ago, on 21 July, a head-on collision between a truck and a bus on a national highway in the Free State province resulted in 7 fatalities and 43 injuries. There have no doubt been several other fatal crashes involving heavy vehicles during July.

Annual road fatalities in South Africa since 2005 have ranged between 9 969 (in 2020) and 15 393 (in 2006) with an average fatality rate for this period of 13 281 or 24.8 per 100 000 population. This represents an average of 36 road fatalities PER DAY. During the first United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety (2011 – 2020), fatalities in South Africa remained relatively stable except for a low value of 9 969 in 2020 during the Covid pandemic. However, in 2021, the number increased to 12 545. The target was to reduce road fatalities by 50% during the past decade. Based on feedback at one of the ISO TC241 (Road Traffic Safely Management Systems) annual meetings, several countries managed to meet this target and others saw a significant reduction of road fatalities, albeit not as much as 50%. The Second Decade of Action for Road Safety commenced in 2021.

In a report published in March 2023 by the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), an agency of the national Department of Transport, the main cause of crashes involving heavy vehicles is human error including speeding, fatigue and unsafe overtaking. Data for the five-year period from 2018 to 2022 were analysed. During this period there were 2 560 fatal crashes involving 4 001 trucks and buses (representing approximately 10% of all fatal crashes), resulting in 3 413 fatalities.

As I indicated, the above situation exists in many Developing nations and has done so for decades. One must wonder if there is a solution to this global crisis in so many countries. Certainly, there is no quick fix, which is often what politicians would like. The traditional approaches are the three E’s or, in some cases, 4 E’s: education engineering, enforcement and evaluation. More recently the Safe Systems Approach has been implemented in many countries. Whatever the approach, the lack of implementation of road safety strategies and the “E” measures, I believe, is often compounded by a lack of funds and/or a lack of political will. In South Africa the development and implementation of the Road Transport Management System (RTMS) self-regulation accreditation scheme during the past 20 years has been an attempt by industry (with support from government) to address the road safety crisis with a specific focus on commercial heavy vehicles.

Some RTMS-certified companies have observed up to a fivefold reduction in crashes over a period of 6 or more years. In many cases, crashes due to driver error have decreased significantly, while 3rd party crashes remain a challenge. However, uptake of the RTMS is still at a low level – estimated at about 20% of heavy vehicles that operate on the major freight corridors. The PBS/HCV initiative, which has been running as a pilot project since 2007, is also contributing to reducing heavy vehicle crashes, albeit a small contribution (due to only approximately 1 000 PBS/HCV vehicles participating in the project to date). After over 500 million kms of data, the PBS crash rate is approximately 40% lower than the baseline vehicle crash rate. Changing the driving behaviour and “culture of non-compliance” of private motor vehicle drivers, however, remains a huge challenge.

During a one-week period starting on Saturday, 8 July, criminal action resulted in at least 20 trucks being set alight on major highways in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo. This is of great concern to the heavy vehicle transport industry, shippers and the country as a whole. The impact on the economy and business confidence is significant. The police have yet to determine the motive for these attacks. Protest action against the presence of foreign drivers (both legal and illegal) in South Africa has been the motive for previous similar actions, although it appears not to be the motive for these recent attacks.

Here in South Africa, we are still making use of our winter woollies. Snow (in Lesotho and some parts of South Africa) and rain (in the Western Cape province) have been recorded at above average levels. There was even a light snowfall in Johannesburg two weeks ago, which usually only occurs every 3 or 4 years. A video clip showing a completely white Ellis Park rugby stadium in Johannesburg went viral on social media – a non-event in most countries in the Northern Hemisphere

All the best and drive safely

Paul Nordengen

HVTT Forum Vice-President: Africa