Public fury has erupted again over the number of crashes – often fatal – involving large trucks on Durban roads.
More than 70 people were killed in 7 000 truck accidents on Durban’s roads last year, with the majority caused by sideswiping and rear-ending – and in daylight, in dry conditions and during off-peak periods.
Truck accidents have been at the centre of public fury for years, with motorists complaining that drivers are often a law unto themselves. The number of trucks that are seen broken down on a daily basis has also drawn criticism about the condition in which they are allowed to operate.
On Tuesday, a man and two boys were killed by an 18-wheeler that hit 16 other vehicles before ploughing into theirs and one other on the N2 near Umgeni Road.
The victims – a father and son, and a friend of the son – were apparently returning from a holiday in the Drakensberg to their homes in Ballito. The children were believed to be in Grade 3 at Umhlali Preparatory School.
The Mercury’s readers reacted angrily to the accident. Typical of the comments was one from “Karushka”, which read: “Trucks have become a law unto themselves! Drastic measures need to be taken against trucks as they have a massive impact, literally. Truck drivers seem to have a total disregard for the rules of the road and the lives of others, never mind the appalling condition of their vehicles.”
The driver of the truck in the N2 crash, carrying a load of grain from the Free State to Empangeni, was arrested and has been charged with culpable homicide. The truck he was driving – an 8 000kg truck tractor with a mass capacity of 25 900kg – was registered by a farming company in the Free State called Alderus Boerdery EDMS. The vehicle was licensed and roadworthy.
Police said the driver did not remember what caused the accident, but it appeared that the weight of the load might have caused him to lose control of the vehicle.
The eThekwini transport authority reported that 7 379 accidents involved trucks on municipal roads last year. Seventy-two people died as a result while another 210 were seriously injured.
Statistics showed that January 2011 saw the fewest truck accidents for the year – 486. November was the worst month, with 706 accidents.
In 2010, 7 165 truck accidents occurred on municipal roads, causing 67 fatalities.
Rear-ending and sideswiping while travelling in the same direction were the most common causes of accidents – 1 597 and 2 469 cases respectively.
Five deaths were caused by sideswiping; seven by rear-ending. A total of 36 pedestrians were killed by trucks. Most accidents took place on weekdays, outside peak traffic periods.
Driver fatigue and a lack of vehicle maintenance has, for many years, been blamed, and Automobile Association spokesman Gary Ronald said that had not changed.
He said that within the road freight industry there were two types of owners: those who kept their vehicles roadworthy and managed their drivers well, and those who did not.
“They are the ones that are just in it to make money. It is about putting cash in the bank and profits ahead of everything else. They cut corners and stretch the periods between vehicle maintenance.”
However, Ronald said he hoped that proposed amendments to the Road Traffic Management Act would deal with these issues, as it set out specific guidelines with regard to checks and balances for truck operators.
“If the act – submissions for which close tomorrow – stands as it is, for the first time there will be controlled driver hours,” Ronald said.
“There will be maximum hours that drivers will be permitted to work, whereas in the past these issues were down to bargaining council agreements.”
Mervyn Attwell, a member of the Institute of Road Transport Engineers, said many of the causes of truck accidents were linked to the economy.
“When there is a slump, transport costs go out the window. Transport operators are pressed by their budgets and need to cut back, so they make these cuts on tyres, service intervals, brake linings and driver rest periods.”
There were, however, he said, owners who operated impeccably.
According to provincial statistics from January to March of this year, 16 trucks were involved in 13 accidents on KZN’s main roads in January and at least three people were killed.
In February, at least six people were killed in 25 accidents involving 28 trucks, and in March, 35 trucks were involved in 32 accidents. Hot spots on provincial roads include the N3 near Shongweni, at Key Ridge and past the toll plaza, and on the N2 north at Sunningdale, and the N2 south at the Ultra City garage and at Illovo.