The nationwide lockdown as a result of efforts to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus will undoubtedly have a dramatic effect on road traffic for the stipulated 21-day period until 16 April. But, with the production, distribution and supply of foodstuff and basic goods labelled as an essential service to the nation by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his address on 23 March, truck drivers will need to remain mobilised for the duration of this period.
Castrol South Africa urges fleet operators and truck drivers to ensure that road safety is front of mind during this critical timeframe. In addition, adequate steps should be taken to ensure the health and wellness of the drivers as they traverse the country as a vital link in the supply chain management of essential goods, services and products during this time.
“The significant drop in regular road users across the country will come as a welcome relief for truckers, who will largely have the roads to themselves until at least mid-April,” says Satha Govender, strategy and projects manager of Castrol South Africa. “There is a chance, however, that this lack of traffic could have an overwhelming calming effect on drivers whose senses may be numbed as a result.”
Driver fatigue is a constant and very real issue for truckers under normal circumstances but, without the frustration of having to contend with impatient and often erratic passenger vehicle driver behaviour, commercial vehicle drivers may be faced with heightened levels of complacency while behind the wheel, leading to drowsiness.
While emergency personnel, police and traffic officers are also exempt from the lockdown, any incidents on the road, especially in more remote areas, could be disastrous as reaction times and the dispatch of rescue services will certainly be slower than usual.
Castrol asks that fleet operators share some helpful tips with their drivers who will be mobile during lockdown.
Alter Travel Times
It is common for truck drivers under normal circumstances to operate at night when road congestion is low. However, during the lockdown weeks, this window will be opened to daylight hours. Shift journeys from night time to the day wherever possible and feasible.
A study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in the US found that driver alertness was directly related to ‘time-of-day’ more so than ‘time-on-task’. Most people are less alert at night, especially after midnight.
Get Enough Sleep
Ensure your drivers get an adequate amount of sleep before getting behind the wheel. Drowsiness may impair a driver’s response time to potential hazards, increasing the chances of being involved in an accident. If they do become drowsy while driving, advise them to find a safe place to pull over and stop to rest.
Take A Nap
If possible, drivers should take a short nap when feeling drowsy or less alert. Naps should last at least 10 minutes, but the ideal nap time is up to 45 minutes. Also allow at least 15 minutes after waking to fully recover and walk around a bit, before starting to drive again.
Do Not Rely On Quick Tricks
Behaviours such as smoking, turning up the volume on the radio, drinking coffee, opening the window and other ‘alertness tricks’ are short-term cures for drowsiness and may give the driver a false sense of security. Coffee and energy drinks can be particularly dangerous as the effect of caffeine can come on strong, but drop off very quickly as it is absorbed into the bloodstream.
Avoid Unnecessary Medications
Most drowsiness-inducing medications include a warning label indicating that one should not operate vehicles or machinery during use. Some of the most common medicines that may induce drowsiness are allergy or colds and flu medicines.
In a recent study, 17 percent of commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers were reported as having ‘over-the-counter drug use’ at the time of a crash. Cold pills are one of the most common medicines that may make you drowsy. If you must drive with a cold, it is safer to suffer from the cold than drive under the effects of the medicine.
CMV drivers will have to transport essential goods such as medical products, food and fuel across South Africa during the coronavirus lockdown period. Employers should ensure that their truck drivers implement extra personal health and safety precautions, and know what immediate steps to take should they display any symptoms of the virus.
“No delivery is worth the risk of a life,” says Govender. “But now, more than ever, the lives of the general public will depend on these deliveries even more. As such, we reiterate safety first in each essential link of the supply chain during this lockdown period of the coronavirus pandemic.”