Truck death trap on too few wheels

2013-11-13 00:00

EAGLE-EYED police officers averted a potential N3 disaster yesterday when they forced to a stop an overloaded, unroadworthy truck — missing a back wheel and carrying a massive 26 tons of steel.

By the time it was stopped, the truck had already travelled from Mooi River to Pietermaritzburg, unnoticed by any traffic authorities.

It was spotted by two alert members of the SAPS Search and Rescue Unit travelling on the N3. They said that if they had not stopped the truck, they could have been picking up dead bodies later on.

The officers noticed how lopsided the truck was and pulled it over. When they saw the truck was missing a wheel they immediately notified the Traffic Department.

Their swift intervention came amidst growing concern at carnage caused on the road by heavy trucks after the Field’s Hill crash, which claimed the lives of 24 people in September.

Driver Guide Zisadza said the tyre had fallen off during bad weather after Mooi River, so he rigged a chain around the axle, using a clamp to keep the chain in place.

He said he was not concerned about the safety hazard of driving without a wheel, as he felt his rigging was fine.

“I used the jack to lift [the axle] up, then put the chain around it. The middle wheel is just support. The other wheels still keep the truck balanced and moving,” Zisadza told The Witness.

However, according to authorities at the scene, the missing wheel immediately caused the truck to be unbalanced, as the weight of the steel loaded on it weighed down more on the left side where the wheel was absent. The rim was also visibly damaged.

According to Zisadza, he was working for Anderson Services. When called by The Witness, a manager at the company, who refused to be named, said the truck was not one of theirs and was subcontracted.

Zisadza gave The Witness a number for the owner of the truck, who confirmed he did not work for Anderson Services. When he was called, he refused to provide his name, but said he was furious at Zisadza when he found out about his handiwork.

“He is going to be fired. He will never drive a truck again. When he alerted me about the tyre I told him to wait, we’d send someone to help him, but he just drove off … He caused even more damage to the truck,” the owner said.

Zisadza said that he was not told to wait. “I didn’t tell my boss about the wheel because I knew he would see it in the yard. I told my workshop manager what happened, and said I was going to make a plan. He said okay.”

One of the traffic officers at the scene determined that the imbalance of the truck due to the missing wheel affected the braking efficiency. He also found that the park brake was faulty.

He drove the truck to the Traffic Department for a thorough inspection, but en route the truck broke down, causing traffic congestion on the N3.

Unsure of why the truck broke down, Zisadza tried to figure out a way to fix the truck. It was eventually towed to the testing grounds.

Zinhle Mngomezulu of the Road Traffic Inspectorate said the truck was found to be overloaded, and the braking efficiency was “not up to scratch”.

The truck has been suspended.

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