Driver training is one of the single biggest interventions that can salvage the tarnished reputation of the transport sector, which is currently seen as a high-risk industry owing to the number of buses and trucks causing carnage on South African roads, says financial services group Standard Bank vehicle and asset finance head Toni Fritz.
“It is not surprising that investors and financial institutions remain cautious towards the transport sector, owing to the risks. With 16 000 road deaths a year (43 a day) and more than 100 000 cases of injuries, the South African economy often absorbs the impact,” says Fritz.
While the transport industry suffers the most, it is also accused of being part of the problem, she adds.
Fritz says there is no doubt that poorly developed and maintained driving skills in South Africa are at the heart of the problem.
“There is a shortage of 3 000 drivers in the South African transport industry. It is a huge problem, but a massive employment opportunity if done right,” she notes.
Owing to the shortage of skills, many transport operators take the credentials presented by new recruits on face value without adequate verification of their skills.
Further, a large portion of fleet managers do not have the capacity for their drivers to undertake training courses or to see that they undergo much-needed vehicle familiarisation training before being put behind the wheel, owing to staff shortages.
There is also the fear that skilled drivers will be poached by competitors, Fritz points out.
“While truck manufacturers and a handful of transport operators in South Africa have state-of-the-art driver training academies, reinforced with driving simulators and medical facilities, the number of graduates still falls short of industry needs,” says Fritz.
On a positive note, there are signs that the transport industry may have started turning the corner. There seem to be a number of initiatives from industry to do something about the skills crisis, she adds.
Driver training is no longer just one of the issues on the agenda, but has become the topic and focus of dedicated workshops.
Over and above various new training programmes, the industry is considering establishing an academy for professional drivers. “There is now a significant focus on driver training, and Standard Bank is part of it,” says Fritz.
One of the most important industry responses to the crisis is the Road Transport Management System (RTMS), which has already been adopted by major players.
RTMS is an accreditation system, much like the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) mark of approval, and has been developed into a formal industry standard by the SABS, highlights Fritz.
Fritz says a fleet that can demonstrate that it abides by a full set of operating standards ranging from vehicle maintenance, prevention of overloading, driver wellness and training, can acquire RTMS certification.
Like an SABS stamp or International Organisation for Standardisation accreditation, RTMS certification shows clients and the authorities that a fleet runs safely and efficiently.
“Driver training and development is one of four pillars of RTMS. An accredited fleet must implement a yearly training plan and promote safe driving behaviour through mentoring, monitoring, counselling, awareness and education. Detailed records of these interventions must be kept and audited yearly to qualify for RTMS certification,” explains Fritz.
Despite the fact that RTMS is currently a voluntary standard, she says fleets are signing up fast, not least because of the significant efficiency savings that it brings.
Further, a new set of road safety regulations is ready to be signed by Transport Minister Dipuo Peters.
When it comes into effect, it will, for the first time, make the clients of transport operators co-responsible for the safety and compliance of the transport operation.
“Therefore, clients will think twice before hiring fly-by-night transport operators, and RTMS accreditation will most likely become the norm in the industry. This will push driver training right to the top of the priority list, where it belongs,” concludes Fritz.