The Windy City of Port Elizabeth is where our team headed towards the end of last year for our last FleetWatch Brake & Tyre Watch project for 2009. We found a group of dedicated, enthusiastic and willing to learn cops but an unused and faulty brake roller tester at the Kinkelbos Traffic Centre was a downside writes Patrick O’Leary.
Port Elizabeth is a strategically situated point along the N2 and it is here, at the Struandale Training Centre, that our team gave theoretical training to over 80 traffic officials on the first day of the operation.
With our three stalwart partners, Bridgestone, Wabco and HCV on board as the foundation rock on which Brake & Tyre Watch has been built, we were thrilled to welcome as a partner – for the second time - the South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL) and - for the first time - Isuzu Trucks South Africa.
SANRAL last joined us when we took Brake & Tyre Watch to Kroonstad and sourced trucks from the N1 for testing. As for Isuzu Trucks, we decided some time ago to invite a different truck manufacturer to each of our Brake & Tyre Watch exercises so as to expose them to what we are doing and to some of the realities being faced out there. Along with our traditional partners, both SANRAL and Isuzu got into the spirit with great gusto participating wholeheartedly and dynamically adding value in no uncertain ways.
After a day’s presentations and training which ended in a hands-on inspection of an Isuzu Gigamax 70-460 model loaned to us by Isuzu Trucks, we started the second day by heading out to the Kinkelbos Traffic Centre about 50 kilometres outside of Port Elizabeth. It is an ideal test centre equipped with a weigh bridge, a brake roller tester and an inspection pit. It all looked great – but, not so great as we were to later find out.
Positioned alongside the N2, it was here that we spent a day with the cops taking trucks off the road and testing them for roadworthiness with the main accent being on training the traffic officials to spot the signs of an unroadworthy and unmaintained truck. The disadvantage of being so far out from Port Elizabeth is that we missed testing urban/city trucks many of which - from our past experiences - are really shagged out.
Six out of fifteen
Be that as it may, a total of 33 vehicles were brought in for weighing and testing. Of these, 18 were weighed and 15 were both weighed and tested. Of the 15 vehicles weighed and tested, six were given Discontinuation of Service notices and were taken off the road. Some of those that were allowed to go were, however, issued with fines for various transgressions.
The reason more trucks were weighed than fully tested is because the brake roller tester equipment ‘broke down’ around midday. That intrepid and highly knowledgeable man from Wabco, Keir Guild, did everything he could to get the meters to work but it was all in vain. The dials sat ‘vas’. It was over.
The story behind this is that when members of the FleetWatch team arrived two days before the exercise to check the lie of the land, they found the brake roller testing equipment was not functioning. In fact, the rollers themselves were rusted which meant they had not been used for some time. To their credit, the Port Elizabeth authorities immediately flew in some experts from Johannesburg to fix the problem. This was done the day before the tests. Unfortunately, the fix proved to be a temporary one and it was just before lunch that it all went on the blink. Now here’s the point. I asked one of the officers when last the brake roller tester had been used. Given that it had been rusted when our advance team arrived, I guessed it must have quite a few months. I was out by quite a bit.
“No,” he replied. “It’s been about four or five years.”
I was amazed. Here was a fully equipped test centre alongside a main route along which hundreds of trucks travel and it had only been used for weighing rather than for the full testing of trucks. How many unroadworthy trucks have passed through that centre over the years without being tested? One can only begin to guess. On the day we were there, we took off six out of fifteen – and that was using the equipment for just half a day. So you do the extrapolation…
I highlight this not to castigate the traffic authorities in this area but rather to highlight this as an area of concern on a national level. The equipment and facilities are not being used by traffic officials and my guess is that the fault lies in training – or the lack of it.
At the Kroonstad weighbridge, we found a brand new brake roller tester still wrapped in its plastic – and it had been there for some years without being installed. What a waste.
Elsewhere in this edition, FleetWatch correspondent Paul Collings tells of the time he went to visit the Donkerhoek weighbridge and vehicle test facility alongside the N12, north-east of Pretoria. While the weighbridge was functioning, the adjoining vehicle test centre - equipped with a hugely expensive high-tech brake roller tester - stood unmanned. When asked why no trucks were being taken over the inspection pit, the commanding officer stated: “We can’t find anybody with the skills to operate the testing equipment!”
In his training presentation to the traffic officials in Port Elizabeth, Wabco’s Keir Guild asked the question: “How do we regulate heavy loads on the roads?” The answer he gave was “with weighbridges”. He then asked: “How do we regulate safety on our roads?” The answer he gave to this was ‘Prevention by Inspection’. From our experience conducting Brake & Tyre Watch around the country, there is little prevention by inspection being conducted and this needs to change.
To change things for the better is one of the objectives of Brake & Tyre Watch and it is encouraging that when we left, the traffic officials were peeved off that their equipment had failed them. Having seen first hand how useful it is in enabling them to better do their jobs, they felt slighted that it had failed them and assured us they were going to request that new equipment be installed.
That aside, FleetWatch must compliment the traffic officials who attended this exercise. Their enthusiasm was clearly evident and their willingness to learn admirable. Without a doubt, the two-day exercise empowered them to better do their jobs.
We must also compliment the operators who use the N2 on exhibiting a higher level of responsibility towards keeping their vehicles in a roadworthy state than we’ve seen in other areas. This is probably the best result we have seen from the various provinces and roads we have taken Brake & Tyre Watch to. Keep it up guys.
That said - and as the accompanying photographs show - we still picked up some horrible faults which tell us that there are operators using the N2 who don’t give two hoots about road safety. Their trucks ended up in the yard – off the road where they belong.
And if the enthusiasm of the traffic officials to continue practicing what they were taught is anything to go by, such operators will either have to clean up their acts or have their trucks end up in the yard again – and again – and again until they learn that there is no compromise when it comes to road safety.
Have a look at the accompanying photographs of faults found and please learn from them. Check your own rigs to ensure that you are not part of the problem out there.