Four ways to curb road accidents

By Arend du Preez, MD of Crossroads Distribution

Each year our roads exact a terrible toll in human lives, particularly around the infamous December and Easter holiday periods. This past December media reports 48 people died and 88 were injured in car accidents during the Christmas weekend alone. Seven died when a taxi hit a bus, five when a bakkie hit a car – both were head–on collisions. In fact many of the holiday period crashes were head-on collisions. The figures may vary slightly depending on your source and they may be initially bland but look even a little deeper than the surface numbers and they begin to paint a picture of a country that apparently fosters a culture of badly disciplined drivers. Head-on collisions mean people drive dangerously by overtaking when and where they shouldn’t.

The numbers don’t stray too far from those of The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which shows that South Africa suffers somewhere in the region of 12 000 to 13 000 road crash fatalities annually (rising by about 7% per year for the past two years) representing around 26 people per 100 000 inhabitants. Most of those involve normal cars. In fact, cars make up 65% of the vehicles on our roads, light duty vehicles around 22%, and trucks, motorbikes, buses and minibuses a mere 3% each.

The price in human lives is irreplaceable. And it is with humans that we have found, in our business and industry at least, that can have a big impact in curbing road accident deaths. Driver behaviour is our number one area of success in reducing the results of poor driving. My own company and many other responsible logistics businesses, exert a lot of effort and expense to improve safety.

We have company policies, as do many others, and we use technology to help us enforce those policies. Those include tracking systems and in some cases systems built into vehicles during production. The systems track vehicle movement, including sudden swerves and harsh braking, as well as use cameras to record drivers in cabs to tell if they’re falling asleep, paying attention to the road, focusing at the correct anticipatory distances ahead of their vehicles, whether or not they skip stop streets, and more. The lesson for us is that while it’s a good idea to have the right policies you must be able to enforce them. South Africa arguably has all the rules of the road we need to keep them safe but we also arguably fall short in enforcing them.

We couple technology to enforce policies to training programmes that demonstrate and instil good driver behaviour. That’s crucial. You have to show people the right way to drive, teach them to drive that way, and only then enforce the policies. Training, repeated regularly, instils good behaviour. It also helps create a DNA of good behaviour throughout our organisation when we enforce policies throughout the business, from the most senior to the most junior employees. We cannot allow our directors to use cellphones when driving but tell our commercial, articulated vehicle drivers they’re not allowed to and penalise them if they do. That offers us another important lesson: fraud and corruption in policing and enforcing policies are a cause for failure.

Regular medical check-ups, similar to those conducted in aviation, ensure healthy drivers with reduced risk of suffering medical emergencies while at the wheel. We also test drivers regularly for alcohol and drug abuse before every departure, even when that departure begins en-route following an overnight stop. It may be an onerous undertaking but we use technology to help us manage the task and it’s a proven help.

We incentivise our drivers to perform well and maintain good, clean records by offering them financial rewards, company-wide recognition via scoreboards, and opportunities to operate the best equipment and routes. Incentives are only for safe driving and not “productivity” or racking up hours on the road. This is a standard among the many experienced operators in our industry.

One of the remaining challenges my industry faces is the entrance of new operators. While the experienced stalwarts have learned hard lessons that prove self-regulation and enforcement are the best options new entrants often make the mistake of chasing margin over safety. I think many in the industry agree that curbing their fiscal enthusiasm at the cost of safety is a task best achieved in conjunction with government through prudent employment of its policing and enforcement agencies.

About Crossroads Distribution

Crossroads, a subsidiary of Community Investment Holdings (CIH), is a diversified domestics and regional services group with associated capabilities internationally, owning an impressive blue chip customer base in its sector.It is a key role-player in the logistics and supply chain management environment in Southern Africa with an associated footprint in Europe. The business employs roughly 900 people, owns more than 380 vehicles, and has access to superior subcontractor vehicles and retains its own warehouses. Crossroads’ strategy combines the best available skills and supply chain management specialists and, where necessary, best in breed IT systems that enable it to provide customers with the most efficient and cost effective logistics and supply chain management solutions available. Crossroads is SABS 14001, 18001, and 9001-certified for SANS and ISO environment management system, health and safety management, and quality management systems compliance. These qualities have seen the business quietly and consistently maintain robust partnerships with South Africa’s biggest and most successful organisations, such as Total, South African Post Office (SAPO), Xstrata, Hulamin, Air Liquide, Anglo Platinum, Distell, Kumba Iron Ore, and many others for the past nearly 100 years. For more information visit privately held Crossroads’ website at www.crossroads.co.za.