Appalling roads take an emotional toll on truck drivers

For National Road Carriers

The appalling state of many New Zealand’s roads is taking a physical and mental toll on truck drivers according to the National Road Carriers Assn (NRC).

“If our roads were a factory or a building site, the workplace safety inspectors would be down on the company directors like a ton of bricks. They are technically a place of work but seem to be exempt for those rules that other businesses have to follow in providing a safe work environment,” said NRC CEO David Aitken.

Mr Aitken says navigating the country’s poorly maintained roads is a major health hazard that makes them “unsafe workplaces” for all the drivers that use them, not just truck drivers. NRC represents 1,800 road transport operators, who collectively operate 16,000 trucks throughout New Zealand.

NRC is part of the Road Transport Forum, one of five organisations with an interest in the state of New Zealand’s roads which last week wrote to Government ministers suggesting they add road maintenance projects to the “shovel ready” list. 

NRC chair Don Wilson said, “Our politicians on the left seem to be in denial that we need roads and the politicians on the right are promising billions of dollars for new roads. What we urgently need right now is a road maintenance budget to make our existing roads safe for all users.”

Kerikeri-based Jaklines, which runs four trucks, has had two drivers leave because driving trucks on Northland roads was too hard on their bodies. Jaklines managing director Jakob Honing says the delays drivers experience at multiple roadworks also causes stress for drivers not to mention the pressure it puts on logbook hours.

NRC is also concerned about the mental stress the drivers are under trying to keep these heavy vehicles on substandard roads. “Drivers spend a long time in these vehicles and it’s a demanding enough job without having to constantly negotiate these safety hazards. It’s a mentally draining job and it shouldn’t have to be,” said Mr Aitken.

Truck company owners are exhausted from their efforts to get roads improved. One respected provincial operator with a large fleet of trucks made comments that reflected the views of many.

“I have run out of puff and frankly feel defeated with the condition of our roads. A few years ago the industry was listened to and when a poor piece of road was identified it was fixed the next day. That does not happen now, just the poor excuse of no funding available.”

“The network needs a huge investment to bring the country’s roads back to a standard we should expect. Our industry feels the pressure of operating on such a poor network with maintenance costs increasing year on year and really no one’s listening.”

“I have lost the will to carry on the fight to have roads built and maintained to an acceptable standard. Our vehicles have to be up to COF standard or we pay a fine. Roading Contractors are exempt from standards and fines it would seem.”

The International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP) is an umbrella programme for road assessment programmes worldwide. Its vision is for a world free of high-risk roads. iRAP’s CEO Rob McInerney has compared this country’s urgent response to COVID19 with the approach to road safety.

“What would road trauma levels be if we responded with the same bravery, courage, intellect, investment and co-ordination as has been applied to COVID-19?” he asks. 

“What if the realisation that we will kill and injure thousands of people over the next 10 years in road crashes finally jolted us to say ‘No way’?  What if we brought together the incredible wealth of experts into a crisis response centre?  What if we used 100% of our energy to find the solutions to act immediately, rather than 90% of our energy finding excuses? 

“The COVID-19 challenge has often been discussed as a trade-off between protecting lives and protecting livelihoods. There is no trade-off with investment to reduce road trauma.  It will save lives, save money and create jobs.  It will protect lives and protect livelihoods.”

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