Hitching a ride with a ‘heavy’

2011-09-15 00:00

THOMAS Moletsane knows the highways of South Africa like the back of his hand. He knows every toll road, turn off, petrol station and truck stop. As a heavy-duty truck driver with almost 20 years’ experience under his belt he has spent years of his life on the road.

He says most drivers treat Town Hill with respect. “You have to use your brakes and your gears, and you have to be patient. Sometimes you know it will add 30 minutes to your trip if it is busy, but you just have to do it.”

He says he has three sets of brakes to slow down the vehicle: cab brakes, trailer brakes and an emergency brake. He says many drivers don’t use their gears to slow down, so when the brakes fail, they panic.

When I ride with him, Moletsane is transporting a load of cargo for Mr Price from the City Couriers truck depot in Harrismith. He has a packed lunch and a large bottle of water. He says he tries to eat healthily but does not always manage to avoid the fast-food traps.

“It’s one of the hazards of driving, when you drive, you get bored and you eat,” he says. Moletsane is one of City Couriers most valuable human assets. As one of its longest-serving drivers, he has an almost 100% clean driving record except for an accident last year when he overturned a truck. No other vehicle was involved and he suffered minor injuries.

It was a strange situation, as he had just left the Harrismith truck stop after a few hours’ sleep when the accident happened. Moletsane says: “I don’t know what happened. One minute I was driving and the next thing, the truck had rolled. I don’t remember what happened.”

City Couriers has very strict policies about the hours its drivers work. Unlike other trucking companies, it insists that its drivers rest on long-haul trips. It also has onboard monitoring devices that track the way its drivers are driving, so if the truck is involved in an accident the company can see what factors contributed to the accident.

The devices check braking, speed, the route and they can even see the trucks from Google Earth.

Moletsane says he is used to the long distances but that many other drivers do not have employers with the same rules.

“Some of them have to drive from Johannesburg to Durban, load the truck and rush back to Johannesburg the same day. Others are driving trucks that are not so safe. They know it and they tell their bosses, but the bosses do nothing.”

Moletsane’s biggest fear is being hijacked with his load. “Hijackers will come and attack you and steal your truck and beat you up. You have to be very careful. We do not give lifts to anyone because you cannot trust them. We try to stop at the truck stops because it is safer, but some of the drivers are not given money for the truck stops and they have to stop at the side of the road.”

A married man with four children, Moletsane says many drivers are divorced or are in transient relationships because they spend a lot of time away from home.

City Couriers fleet manager Anthony Naicker said the company has 740 trucks on the road at any time. It has invested a huge amount in technology to manage its assets.

“We have our own workshop and all trucks are mechanically sound before they go out. We monitor the drivers on the road and at any given moment we can see where they are.

“Our control room constantly communicates with the driver to see how the trip is going. Our aim is to make sure the cargo gets to its destination but that the truck and the driver are part of this process.”

Naicker said the “remote intelligence” systems had paid off with reduced insurance premiums and lower maintenance costs on the vehicles.

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