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All roads lead to… respect for SA’s long-haul drivers

Long-haul drivers share experience with Trucks and Heavy Equipment

On a recent field trip with the management and PR team of the Volvo Group SA, Trucks and Heavy Equipment editor, Annelise van der Laan, gained first-hand insight into a typical ‘overnight’ stop for some of SA’s long-haul drivers at the Harrismith Highway Junction on the busy highway route between Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

For many drivers it’s only a short stop – to stretch legs, eat, shower, maybe catch some sleep, before tackling the remainder of a grinding journey. From both directions on the N3, they rolled into Harrismith Highway Junction, established in 1998. According to SANRAL, an average of 13 500 vehicles pass through Harrismith per day, of which 5 600 are heavy-duty trucks.

13 500 vehicles pass through Harrismith per day, 5 600 are heavy-duty trucks.

Frik Neethling has been at the helm of the Harrismith Highway Junction facility since it was opened in 1998 - long-haul drivers
Frik Neethling has been at the helm of the Harrismith Highway Junction facility since it was opened in 1998.

“It was an eye-opener to see how the fully laden, multi-ton trucks hauled into the highway park, way after nightfall, ending the first part of their Johannesburg/Durban trek,” says van der Laan. The facilities include a canteen, hot and cold ablutions, rooms to sleep, laundry, and a ‘club house’ recreation area.

A wellness clinic, funded by public-private partnerships, attends to the drivers’ general wellness needs, and provides a basic dispensing service, and HIV/AIDS testing and counselling. The facility also includes a pastoral service and a community up-skilling centre.

Harrismith Highway Junction peaks at an overnight capacity of 400 trucks per night, and one of the largest in South Africa

The Harrismith Highway Junction seasonally peaks at an overnight capacity of up to 400 trucks per night, and is one of the largest in South Africa. “It became apparent that many drivers were on the road up to six days a week, with no-break stretches of three to four months, away from family, and driving under very stressful conditions.

While the majority of transport operators generally acknowledge drivers’ health and well-being as crucial, it is unforgivable that some unscrupulous operators push drivers beyond the recommended, regulated hours and standards set down. Respect and acknowledgment certainly goes a long way to make SA’s drivers feel appreciated and worthwhile contributors to industry and the economy,” says van der Laan.

Christian Coolsaet, MD of Volvo Trucks SA, who joined the media group on the road trip, says: “To make life easier for both operator and driver, the Volvo Group has set up a complete workshop at the Highway Junction to attend to any minor repairs or service checks.

With the well-equipped Volvo and Renault workshop at the truck stop, a technically competent team can attend to minor repairs and incidental service needs - long-haul drivers
With the well-equipped Volvo and Renault workshop at the truck stop, a technically competent team can attend to minor repairs and incidental service needs.

A Volvo All roads lead to… respect for SA’s long-haul drivers On a recent field trip with the management and PR team of the Volvo Group SA, Trucks and Heavy Equipment editor, Annelise van der Laan, gained first-hand insight into a typical ‘overnight’ stop for some of SA’s long-haul drivers at the Harrismith Highway Junction on the busy highway route between Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

“To make life easier for both operator and long-haul drivers, the Volvo Group has set up a complete workshop at the Highway Junction to attend to any minor repairs or service checks.

and Renault Trucks technical team, stationed in town, and who are staffed with the Ladysmith/Harrismith dealership, does this work while the drivers rest up. “This is an ideal arrangement for all concerned,” says Coolsaet. “This country could certainly do with far more trucks stops like the one at Harrismith, with decent infrastructure to care for both the driver’s needs and provide service and parts support for the operator’s vehicle.

This will take pressure off the large metropolitan service hubs, improve on uptime and improve safety on the roads. “It is a great pity that the long-haul drivers of far too many operators just park along the highway, causing a serious hazard, merely because the operators aren’t willing to pay a nominal R120 per stopover fee, in the case of Harrismith,” says Coolsaet.

“If more OEMs, together with other industry participants, could support expanding the truck stop infrastructure across the main routes in southern Africa, the long-haul industry would be far more efficient – saving on costs, downtime and improving the general well-being of drivers, and the security of trucks and loads.”

The local Harrismith community provides pastoral services for long-haul drivers
The local Harrismith community provides pastoral services.

Iain McCabe, General Manager: Retail Development, Volvo and Renault Trucks, affirms his MD’s point of view: “While we’ve invested over R2,5 million in equipping and stocking the Harrismith workshop, we have seen satisfying results in uptake by our customers where they are bringing in vehicles for minor repairs and incidental service to the Harrismith facility.

We’re delighted to be able to bring added value to our customers running the approximately 420 Volvo and Renault trucks on this route every day. Our five very competent technicians, supported by two admin staff, take excellent care of our customers vehicles at this facility.”

“The Harrismith Highway Junction facility sets a fine example of the benefits which a well-structured and well-run truck stop can bring to transport operators, helping them maintain cost-efficiencies on their fleets. Moreover these facilities also provide a sense of dignity and respect for the arduous task of SA’s long-haul drivers,” concludes the Volvo Trucks SA MD.

 

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Tristan Wiggill
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