Every fleet manager knows that fleet drivers are the foundation of a successful and efficient fleet. The most advanced and capable vehicles in the world will still perform poorly if they’re driven by poorly trained or overtired drivers.
In the past, many companies could get away with the bare basics in driver training, but the current economic climate and increased need to cut fleet costs has put driver training and safety under the spotlight. This has in turn put pressure on fleet managers to ensure their drivers are operating in conditions that allow them to perform at their best, while prioritising their safety.
South Africa doesn’t have legislation that dictates precisely how many hours a fleet driver can operate on our roads. There are broad suggestions that fall in line with standard daily work hours, but they leave much room for error. They also don't take into consideration the possible differences in road conditions or access to safe places for drivers to stop and rest.
Therefore, most businesses and professional fleet management companies use their own knowledge and experience to create guidelines for maximum operating hours, distance and required rest stops.
Truck stops in South Africa
As SA’s rail network continues to deteriorate many businesses have no choice but to move to long-haul road solutions. This means there are more trucks on our roads than ever before and fleet managers must ensure that drivers are operating in safe conditions.
And, while there are many excellent truck stops across the country, there are just as many that don’t offer adequate facilities. According to Eugene Herbert, CEO of MasterDrive, challenges that drivers face at these truck stops include:
- Limited space: every truck stop can only fit a certain number of trucks at a time and drivers are often forced to keep driving in search of a truck stop with available space, even when they are dangerously tired.
- Poor facilities: drivers must contend with unmaintained and unsanitary bathroom facilities.
- Poor food availability: many truck stops only have basic snacks such as chips or sweets for sale. Drivers who are on the road for days at a time don’t always have access to proper food and this has a negative impact on their health and performance.
- Poor safety: many truck stops don’t offer any kind of security leaving drivers and their cargo at risk. Vehicle and cargo theft is a risk at many rest stops across the country. This places drivers in an impossible situation where they need to sleep but are still responsible for expensive vehicles and cargo.
These are just a few examples of the challenges drivers face, and when you’re responsible for an entire fleet and its drivers, you want to know that your staff, vehicles and cargo are safe at all times.
Thankfully, it’s not all negative news. Many organisations such as the Road Freight Association (RFA) and individual companies are consistently lobbying the government for more support to improve conditions for fleet drivers in SA.
In addition, many truck stop owners have improved their facilities as they’ve realised that offering a safe and comfortable space for drivers is a very lucrative business in SA.
And, from a fleet management side, there are many ways to help improve working conditions for fleet drivers. These include:
- Route optimisation: finding routes that are still quick and efficient but have good quality rest stops if needed.
- Monitoring driver behaviour: this helps businesses identify where they need to focus their training interventions. This increases driver capability and safety while lowering risk to the business.
- Driver fatigue monitoring: many telematics systems can pick up signs of driver fatigue and alert them that it’s time to take a break. These systems have proved essential for long-haul drivers who are at high risk of falling asleep behind the wheel.
- Vehicles with sleeper cabins: these are a good solution for trucks that operate in more remote areas and secondary roads without quality rest stops. These vehicles do cost more, but the initial price is quickly offset by the reduced cost in fatigue-related incidents.
As mentioned above, many businesses are doing their part to help improve conditions for fleet drivers in SA. This year MasterDrive hosted its second annual Fleet Safety Awards that recognise fleet managers and companies for their dedication and hard work in promoting road safety in South Africa.
One of the categories is ‘Best Truck Stop’, with nominations coming from truck drivers who depend on these facilities. This year’s winner was Highway Junction in Harrismith. Safety and access to well-maintained facilities were the deciding factors in this category.
According to Herbert,
“Highway Junction has over 1500 vehicles pass through every day, which makes it a massive operation. Their ability to maintain such high standards with this much volume should be a beacon for truck stops across the country. Drivers will always choose stops with the best facilities, which means truck stops in lower traffic areas will see a big increase in business if they ensure they’re offering the best service in the area.”
Herbert further noted that the level of participation in the MasterDrive Fleet Safety Awards shows that successful companies understand the value of maintaining fleet and driver safety.
The need for trucks across all industries is unlikely to decrease in the near future as there simply aren’t viable alternatives. This means driver training and safety will play an increasing role in the success of your business.
Nobody can risk falling behind in today’s economy and if your business relies on fleet drivers to keep things running your best bet is to consult with an expert fleet partner to see how you can improve work conditions and overall driver performance.
As SA’s rail network continues to deteriorate many businesses have no choice but to move to long-haul road solutions. Expert drivers are the foundation of a safe and efficient fleet, so contact us to find out how you can improve driver performance across your fleet.