“The average South African road user is 32 times more likely to die in a traffic crash than the average United Kingdom citizen,” says Rob Handfield-Jones, MD of driving.co.za.

“This is only one reason as to why driver training in South Africa should be regarded as a very important contributor to a company’s overall CSR (corporate social responsibility) strategy.”

Properly trained drivers are also more adaptable to certain road conditions and varying circumstances, which greatly reduces their risk of causing or avoiding an accident. Through driver training programs, a driver is exposed to the potential dangers experienced while driving and informed of potential hazards that they may face. Drivers are taught to take note of various road, weather and visibility conditions, and adjust their speeds and driving technique accordingly to suit each situation.

Gavin Kelly, the Road Freight Association’s technical and operations manager, adds: “The training of drivers, irrespective of current road conditions, is always an important facet in the efficient and safe transportation of freight through our country and the rest of the continent. Drivers are faced with a greater challenge than bad road conditions every day – and that is the behaviour of light motor vehicles in and around the traffic that freight vehicles find themselves in.”

Vehicle technology and vehicles themselves are always progressing and drivers should be regularly trained to keep up to date with this. Vehicle technology is progressing rapidly and the modern vehicle offers the driver many aides and assistance.

According to Gary Clackworthy, operations director of the Advanced Driving Institute: “If the driver does not understand these systems, they cannot be expected to use the new technology successfully. Modern collision avoidance systems (CAS) and other technology sometimes lull drivers into a false sense of security. Regular training is essential where drivers are exposed to and understand all modern features of modern vehicles along with their limitations.”

States Kelly: “The RFA has an approved driver training provider programme aimed solely a ensuring that good basic driving skills are covered. In addition, the RFA requires that training is done on modern vehicles (many driving institutions use outdated vehicles) and that driving is done under different load and weather conditions. This has always been an issue – that drivers are trained on systems that have long been phased out and that the learner-driver never gets to experience the difference between an empty, half-loaded and fully loaded vehicle where the manner in which a vehicle performs is drastically changed.”

The RFA also requires its approved driver training centres to offer additional skills such as loading and off-loading vehicles as well as being educated on delivery scheduling, learning some basic customer skills and other tasks related to being involved in a freight and logistics operation.

There is, however, a shortage of skilled and trained drivers in South Africa with less than 1% of South African drivers attending post-license training every year, which means that 98% of South African drivers are under-skilled. There are several reasons that there is a general shortage of drivers, let alone skilled drivers, including extremely challenging working conditions – especially long distance and cross-border and the easy targeting of trucks by criminal elements makes for an unsafe working environment. Another factor is the stress of getting through severe traffic conditions in peak hour transport and the continual negative pressure from the general public against trucks has its own psychological impact on those who would want to try to get into the road freight industry.

The need for skilled drivers in South Africa and the rest of Africa is crucial but there are many challenges to overcome.

Says Handfield-Jones:“In the real world, probably 40% of all drivers have irregular licenses, meaning bought, forged or illegal. As a country, our first priority should be to get those people up to license standard before we even start thinking about post-license training or refreshers. The solution is to overhaul the license curriculum to include more defensive skills and make the five-yearly license renewal contingent on an actual driving skills test. The infrastructure to do this exists; what is lacking is the managerial competence within the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) and the political will from the Minister of Transport.”

Kelly concludes:“The RFA has communicated the need for driver training to be done by a professional system under the auspices of the Association (as done in the UK and the US) as well as allowing the industry to manage and monitor the efficiencies of driver training programs as implemented by the industry. Numerous workshops within the industry, including related stakeholders, have arrived at the same conclusion: training needs to be relevant and managed by the industry where the correct approach and processes can be followed.”