TARNISHED REPUTATION: A screenshot shows the moment a truck smashed into four minibus taxis killing 24 people in 2013. Unskilled drivers and unroadworthy vehicles are part of SA’s tarnished transport sector’s reputation. Image: YouTube
Driver training is one of the single biggest interventions that can salvage the tarnished reputation of the transport sector, writes Toni Fritz, head of vehicle and asset finance – business at Standard Bank.
Fritz said the transport sector is seen as a high-risk industry due to the number of buses and trucks "causing carnage on South African roads". She said it is not surprising that investors and financial institutions remain cautious towards the transport sector due to the risks.
SA's road deaths, 16 000 annually (roughly 43 per day) and more than 100 000 cases of injuries, negatively affect the economy. The transport industry suffers the most, Fritz says, and it's accused of being part of the problem.
She says there is no doubt that poorly developed and maintained driving skills in South Africa are at the heart of the problem: “There is a shortage of 3 000 drivers in the South African transport industry. It is a huge problem but a massive employment opportunity if done right.”
Due to a shortage of skills, transport operators take credentials presented by new recruits on face value without adequate verification of their skills. A large portion of fleet managers do not have the capacity to train drivers, due to staff shortages, before putting them behind the wheel.
Fritz comments that there is also the fear that skilled drivers will be poached by competitors: “Whilst truck manufacturers as well as a handful of transport operators in South Africa have state-of-the-art driver training academies reinforced with driving simulators and even medical facilities, the number of graduates still falls short of industry needs.”
Fritz reports that a number of initiatives from the industry are tackling the skills crisis such as a proposed academy for professional drivers.
One of the most important industry responses to the crisis is the Road Management Transport System (RTMS), which has already been adopted by major organisations and companies.
Fritz explains that the RTMS is an accreditation system, much like the SA Bureau of Standards (SABS) and has been developed into a formal industry standard by the SABS. A fleet that can demonstrate that it abides by a full set of operating standards ranging from vehicle maintenance, prevention of overloading, driver wellness and training, can acquire RTMS certification.
She said: “Driver training and development is one of four pillars of RTMS. An accredited fleet must implement an annual training plan and promote safe driving behaviour through mentoring, monitoring, counselling, awareness and education. Detailed records of these interventions must be kept and audited annually in order to qualify for RTMS certification.”
Despite the fact that RTMS is currently a voluntary standard, Fritz says fleets are signing up.
NEW SAFETY REGULATIONS
A new set of road safety regulations will for the first time, if it comes into effect, make the clients of transport operators responsible for the safety and compliance of the transport operation.
Fritz said: “Clients will therefore think twice before hiring fly-by-night transport operators, and RTMS accreditation will most likely become the norm in the industry. This will push driver training right to the top of the priority list, where it belongs.”