Durban - Truck owners have been accused of forcing their drivers to operate unroadworthy vehicles and to drive for long periods without adequate rest.
If the carnage on the roads were to stop, they needed to get their houses in order, industry executives were told at a conference in Shongweni on Friday.
Politicians were also given a roasting at the conference in the wake of the Fields Hill crash on September 5.
Patrick O’Leary, the editor of FleetWatch, an industry magazine and the organiser of the event, slammed politicians for their “awful, despicable clap-trap” after the accident that claimed 23 lives, saying the fact some had made it about race was wrong.
He said truckers were killed every week on the road, but politicians did not get publicly angry about that.
Every death on the road was a tragedy, O’Leary said at the “FleetWatch Call to Action” conference, which was sponsored by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport and attended by more than 300 chief executives, top management and owners from the trucking industry.
“They (politicians) need 23 deaths first,” he said.
Speaking about a trucker who died on the N3 last week, O’Leary said: “How many of you even knew about his death? Did any of you see it on the front page of newspapers? No, it’s just one death. Did any politician get up in the middle of the night (because of it)? No. Everyone in this room should care about the one,” he said.
Quoting national statistics, O’Leary said there were 15 000 deaths on the roads every year.
“Everyone is jumping up and down (over Fields Hill), yet 43 people die every day.”
He acknowledged that as a result of the Fields Hill crash, the trucking industry was facing an image crisis as people now saw trucks as “juggernauts of death”.
He said the industry needed to ensure its drivers were given vehicles that were roadworthy and safe. He showed delegates pictures of trucks that had been pulled from service, some had smooth tyres or no brakes, and others had crucial mechanical parts crudely welded.
O’Leary said drivers were forced to use those vehicles, threatened with their jobs.
He said the industry also needed to be better regulated.
Transport MEC Willies Mchunu attended the conference, but was not present during O’Leary’s presentation.
Mchunu said he was never personally given any reports warning about the dangers of the M13 near Fields Hill.
“The Fields Hill accident has unfortunately unleashed such an outrage against not only me as MEC and government, but against you in the trucking industry,” he said.
“It (safety on Fields Hill) is not the sole responsibility of government. All of us are in it together. That is why I now have a full report of who made presentations to the government. I can tell you without being ashamed, anybody who tells you that a representation was made to the MEC is wrong,” he said.
Mchunu said he was setting up a meeting with the freight industry to discuss the situation at Fields Hill.
He said during a roadblock on Fields Hill on Thursday, 90 trucks had deviated from the N3 to the M13 and down Fields Hills in just two hours.
He said one driver told him that he had joined the M13 as he was headed to Springfield Park. “It made sense that a truck, which goes to Springfield Park goes through the M13 and joins the M19 straight to Springfield Park. It makes a hell of a lot of sense,” he said.
Other truckers did not have money to pay toll fees and it was the instruction of the company that they use the M13.
The MEC said he planned to raise with the freight industry, the plight of unemployed South African truck drivers who were being sidelined in favour of foreign truck drivers, who got paid less.
“I want to state upfront I have no authority over how companies hire and fire – all those things are governed by the law,” Mchunu said.
“The only concern I would have is, whoever you hire, are their driving licences verified? I don’t want to fight with the truck owner after the driver has been proved to have a fake licence after an accident. Let me have a real clear idea of how you verify driving licences of foreigners. Also, are they residents of the country?”