Safe Driving With Trucks at Night
The major threats when driving trucks at night
Nighttime driving presents obstacles and risks that you do not have to deal with during the day, such as shorter days and compromised night vision. In addition, the everyday risks become a little more dangerous under the cover of darkness.
The eyes, in general, are terrible at seeing at night with depth perception, peripheral vision and the ability to distinguish colour diminished.
Because your vision accounts for nearly 90% of your reaction while driving, nighttime driving dramatically decreases your ability to effectively respond to potential hazards on the road.
Even with high-beam headlights on, your visibility is limited to about 110m to 160m (50m to 76m with normal headlights), meaning there is less time to react.
Night blindness is a condition that makes it hard to see in poor light or at night. Symptoms include:
- Decreased vision at night or poor light
- Peripheral vision problems
- Possible loss of central vision
Nighttime driving is made more dangerous by the following factors:
Reduced visibility: At night, we no longer have natural light to help us see road signs, other drivers, pedestrians, debris in the road, animals, and other obstacles. It also makes it more difficult to judge the distance between your car/truck and another car/truck.
Driving at night means relying on headlights and street lights, which don’t provide the same visibility that natural light does. In addition, many of our rural roads do not have any streetlights and at times loadshedding will add to this.
Age factors: Unfortunately, as we age, our ability to see at night deteriorates. In addition, older drivers may have compromised vision due to cataracts and degenerative eye diseases.
Rush hour: Any time of the year, rush hour can be a dangerous driving time. As the days get shorter and darkness comes earlier, the drive time becomes more dangerous especially when driving in stop-and-go or bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Driving under the influence: Impaired drivers are more likely to be on the road after dark, between the hours of midnight to 3 a.m. on weekends. There is a higher risk of sharing the road with an impaired driver at night as people leave restaurants and bars.
Construction activity: Often, road construction happens in the evening hours. With poor light and other factors, it can be difficult to see construction work zones and you can get blinded by the brightwork lights being used
Potholes: Even though national roads are usually well maintained, especially on the secondary or rural roads lack of road maintenance and the increased number of potholes have become a major threat to the safety of truck drivers.
While fatigue, crashes and striking animals were a major concern in years gone by, new and more worrying trends have emerged.
Crime as a Threat to Night Driving
As the rate of crime escalated, and as criminals adjusted their strategies, contact crime is the greatest risk, at present.
These risks can be divided into the following categories - each with its own discussion:
Any reasonably-informed South African and most transport operators are surely aware of the ever-present threat of hijackings. According to some statistics, the hijacking rate in South Africa for the Q3 2021/2021 period has increased by 13.8% - that’s 5,455 hijackings from October to December 2021, up from 4,794 in the previous year.
With the Western Cape leading the fold for that period, it should serve as a reminder that hijackings do not only “happen up there,” anymore.
Hijacking strategies have also evolved, to now include vehicle sabotage (disconnecting brake line hoses), armed group attacks, intersection confrontation (where trucks low down), and, of course, also…
Fake Police Attacks
One of the pet gripes with Law Enforcement is the utter contradiction inconsistency displayed. On the one side, the SAPS invested heavily in “specially-marked” yellow reflective tape, to avoid criminals from being able to easily clone marked police vehicles. While this is commendable, the use of so-called “ghost-squads” (law enforcement officers operating completely unmarked vehicles) has also been on the rise. This means that - because it’s an official law enforcement strategy - any criminal can now ‘become a law enforcement officer” simply by putting a blue light on their dashboard.
Any law-abiding citizen would be reasonably expected to heed a command to stop, an unmarked vehicle displaying blue lights - but they do so at their own peril if the “cops are fake!”
The increase in physical attacks - from stones, petrol bombs, or even gunfire, is also on the rise, and we are seeing more reports of asset damages for no good or apparent reason - especially now that there is this focus on “foreign drivers” and the push to “create jobs for South Africans.” In these cases, there seems to be nothing more than a random selection of targetted vehicles, and the only goal seems to be the sabotage of operations. These attacks could obviously also happen during the day.
Public Protest and Unrest
In recent years, we have seen an enormous increase in the incidence of public protest and unrest on scales never-before-seen. Now, every heavy commercial operator needs to stay aware of the risks of running into or getting trapped by public protest and unrest.
This is a major concern and increases worries about the lack of focus on an intelligence-driven transport ecosystem - one where transport operators form or join information alliances to stay informed and updated. One such platform is our very own SA National Risk Updates Channel. We formed this channel during the heavy unrest in Kwazulu-Natal, we still have over 1,600 members, and we still share transport risk and risk mitigation information. Any commercial transporter can join this channel by installing Telegram Messenger and opening this link: www.t.me/ibfusa
While there is hardly only a concern for night-time driving, the prevalence of looting of trucks - even while they are in motion - is an ever-present threat every transporter should be aware of. While this affects transporters of more appealing loads, like alcohol, food, and/or electronic products, indicating a new trend in self-enrichment or survival on a whole new level, this risk cannot be overlooked.
As the economy is buckling under the effects of the Covid-lockdowns, and as natural market forces are applied, we see some of the biggest transport operators “pivoting out of transport” or simply shutting their doors for business. This economic trend spares no one, and the one area of investment that often suffers is maintenance. As transport operators wage a war for their survival, they find taxes, toll fees, fuel prices, and salary demands cutting into their profitability, and therefore their survival.
Breakdowns often lead to drivers being assaulted and parts of the load stolen. Trucks also get vandalized when they break down.
By replacing their fleet less often, delaying or minimizing repairs, making improvised repairs, or relaxing their mechanical minimum standards, breakdowns will invariably become more common. As these occur, productivity falls, risks increase, and other areas where savings can be enjoyed - like reducing or cancelling insurance - is next.
Some advice for combatting crime:
- Be aware of objects placed on the road that might be metal spikes or contain spikes, try and lane change on the approach to a bridge as many criminals throw stones and other objects from the bridge onto vehicles.
- Be aware of vehicles following you without headlights on. Avoid picking up passengers at night or anytime as this poses an additional risk.
- Hijacking syndicates operate 24/7 and Danie Day and associates, well-known private investigators, provide regular updates on the techniques and methods used.
- Be aware of your surroundings at all times, stick to your planned route and check in with your fleet manager or control room regularly.
- Have a plan that you can use in an emergency.
- Continuously share information on crime hotspots and modus operandi.
- Only stop where it is safe. Do not stop for random blue lights.
- Make sure your tracking devices are operational and that they are monitored by the tracking company. Install panic buttons.
- Do not pick up passengers to make a quick buck etc.
- Travel in convoy where possible.
- Since crime is ever-present, and since the types of crimes can vary so substantially, only Tactical Risk Mitigation Training can positively impact on this specific risk.
- We provide Tactical Driver Risk Mitigation Training and we have even produced Training Videos for clients. The following is but one example from around 2013:
Prevent fatigue-related crashes
When you’re tired, your body reacts differently than it would if it were fully charged and awake. Impairments in human performance when driving tired include slower reaction time, reduced attentiveness and weakened information processing skills.
- Plan to get a sufficient amount of sleep before driving.
- Aim for at least 6 hours, but 8 hours is recommended.
- Avoid consuming any alcohol when you know you’ll be driving late at night.
- Watch out for medications that may cause drowsiness. If you are taking any medications with this side effect, let someone else drive.
- Stop for a rest break, if safe to do so, every 90 minutes.
- Take annual eye tests and wear proper spectacles. The harder it is to focus because of poor eyesight, the quicker one gets fatigued.
One of the biggest, and most worrying aspects of Heavy Commercial Transport in South Africa, in the absence of a National Legislation Framework for the control of Bulk Vehicle Operators’ working conditions, as far as the rest is concerned. If you refer to the US Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Regulations, driver rest is legislated nationally, as are vehicle inspections.
As one example, from those regulations, Part 395 of the FMCSA specifically legislates driver hours, with the following specific conditions to be met during rest:
- Driver must be released of all duty and responsibility, for care and custody of the vehicle, its accessories, and any cargo or passengers it may be carrying.
- The driver’s relief from duty must be for a specified period and must be of sufficient duration to ensure that the driver can obtain rest.
- During the off-duty period, the driver must be permitted to pursue activities of his/her choosing and be free to leave the premises where the vehicle is situated.
Under punishment of law, the FMCSA also refers to some “time rules,” which essentially state the following:
- 10-Hour rule: Any driver may not drive more than 10 hours following 8 consecutive hours off duty.
- 15-Hour rule: Any driver may not drive after being on duty 15 hours following 8 consecutive hours off duty.
- 60-Hour rule: Any driver may not drive after being on duty 60 hours in 7 consecutive days.
- 70-Hour rule: Any driver may not drive after being on duty 70 hours in any 8 consecutive days (only applicable to carriers who operate vehicles every day of the week).
Of course, this is not necessarily directly compatible with the conditions prevailing in developing countries, but until working (physical driving) and rest is a right protected under law, some form of overreach will be ever-present - especially in the highly competitive local markets. While this may be the case, we could see regulations/standards such as (at least) FMCSA Regulation 395.8 adopted locally, which states:
- Except for a private motor carrier of passengers (nonbusiness) every motor carrier shall require every driver used by the carrier, to record his or her duty status for each 24-hour period.
- Duty status time shall be recorded in a specific grid (record book), or;
- Every driver who operates a commercial vehicle shall record his/her duty status by using an automatic onboard recording device that meets the requirements of 395.8 of this part.
- The device shall provide a means whereby authorized federal, state, or local officials can immediately check the status of a driver’s hours of service.
A proper record of hours driven places a greater burden of responsibility on the driver fosters a culture of responsible driving hours and protects the employer (operator) against allegations of exploitation or coercion.
Prevent crashes into animals at Night
- Your best defence is to slow down and if need be, allow animals to move away from the road at their own pace.
- Use your bright lights at night whenever possible to see animals more easily.
- Slow down on blind curves and up hills as there might be animals on the other side.
- During cold nights cattle and other animals will make their way to the road in order to find warmth from the road surface, so be extra cautious on cold nights.
The best solutions available to Commercial Operators, at this time, include:
Videographic Route Risk Assessments
A Videographic Route Risk Assessment involves the physical driving of a particular route, which is video recorded. The recording is then reviewed and edited to show the entire route, with specific highlights of areas of concern or danger in a condensed visual format. The video - watched by drivers during inductions or briefings - gives them visual cues that are more readily committed to visual memory than their paper counterparts.
As new lighting technologies have become available, more modern vehicles are equipped with superior systems and intelligent controls benefiting road users by enhancing visual exposure while reducing glare. Where older vehicles are still being used, retrofitting could substantially increase sight distance at night, if it is not to the detriment of approaching vehicles.
Driver training is an element that can always enhance safety, but operational training and risk mitigation training are two animals of substantially differing colours. Whether a driver can effectively operate his vehicle (not make driving mistakes, themselves) and whether they are able to operate their vehicle to the highest degree of possible safety despite in-bound risks (tactical risk avoidance) are two completely different sets of skills.
We have been providing Tactical Driver Risk Mitigation training to our clients for many years - to their great advantage.
Reduced speeds, under certain conditions
Where black animals are involved, at night, or where animals act suddenly (jumping antelope) or running deer, there is little else that can be done, other than to reduce speeds at night, in all areas. A major misunderstanding prevails when people think that posted speed limits apply under all conditions. Deciding whether you are legally allowed to travel at 80 Km/h, for instance, is not the same as deciding whether it is actually safe to do so.
While bigger commercial vehicles are affected to a lesser degree by the relatively small size of most animals, the carcasses left behind or the influence on movement and steering can introduce enormous secondary risks for them or other road users.
The Trucking Industry, Firearms and Armed Transport
A recent event that made the news where a driver shot dead a hijacker, resulted in the driver NOT being prosecuted. We hear of more drivers arming themselves which is indicative of the extreme danger that truck drivers find themselves in SA.
Crime is absolutely rampant and reliance still has to be placed on self-protection. Unfortunately, it is very difficult and time-consuming to buy, license and collect a firearm in SA. A valid concern is that arming truck drivers could increase the risk of a potential hijacking as criminals are on the lookout for firearms. Signing up with a specialised anti-hijack unit could be considered.
Some transporters have adopted no official policy in this regard, some have explicitly endorsed their drivers’ right to defend themselves, and some have outlawed it, where international operations or industry-specific concerns prevail.
There is simply no “one-size-fits-all” approach to this since the driver’s rights have to be balanced against the legal implications of those decisions. A firearm that is legally licensed in South Africa might not be taken over borders without proper import permits. The same in the opposite direction.
When a driver must operate his vehicle on-premises, such as at fuel depots or government facilities, there might be a ban on firearms, presenting challenges.
The operational environment, risk profile, and legislation should be considered by operators and drivers before firearms are allowed in vehicles.
The Role of Fleet Managers and Insurance Companies
- Fleet Management used to be limited to administrative/operational duties. As risks have increased and as crime has risen, the duties have now expanded to include tactical risk prevention, operational crisis management, and even active response to incident and accident scenes.
- The modern fleet manager has a sound understanding of the administrative and operational mechanisms that govern their fleet, but they also have knowledge about crime trends, risk analysis, risk reaction, risk mitigation, tactical safety, and crime and crash investigation.
- They may find themselves bored, looking at a screen, for one second and standing on a live crash scene, dead-bodies-and-all, within an hour.
- The best tool for engaging the Fleet Manager more closely with the emerging trends in transport management and risk mitigation remains training: Tactical Risk Mitigation and Crash Investigation Training, to be specific.
- Travelling at night can be limited to rather travel early morning and shutdown at nighttime.
- If you have to operate at night, it might be safer to travel in convoy if possible.
Fleet managers and mitigating/reducing the risk of road freight transport at night
Considering the ever-changing environment in which Commercial Transporters need to remain safe, profitable, and efficient, Fleet Controllers should view their duties as vital in the transport and logistics industry.
As the primary designers, managers, and influencers within their organizations, they should endeavour to remain informed, educated, and skilled to the levels that compare to their likely experiences.
Training in tactical awareness, conflict psychology, investigation, case management, and even criminal procedures are quickly becoming the very issues a Fleet Manager would be expected to deal with.
Route and Driver Selection for travel in High-Risk Areas
Information and making informed decisions are key! Gather and use all the information you can find whether this is via social media or from the traffic reports.
There is a saying in military and law enforcement circles: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Planning has historically involved nothing more than cost, time, and operational considerations. As the transport landscape adjusts to new and emerging trends, risks, and influences, every precaution must be taken to ensure the integrity of the transport operations effort.
As far as routes and sections are concerned, forward intelligence should be pursued with passion. In any operation at least the following intelligence aspects should be regarded as important and explored regularly:
Transport Operators should regard and connect to as many information and risk sources as possible. Mediums like the news, Facebook Groups, WhatsApp and Telegram Groups, Internal or Industry Forms, and even internal information should be considered potentially vital.
While a connection to many different platforms and while this will result in some information overload, every Transporter should, in these times, have a risk manager or risk department that is adequately informed to evaluate the nature of the information received.
Once information seems viable, is verified, or becomes a reality from multiple sources, the information quality has been established. At this stage, the information can be duly considered viable, actionable, and relevant.
A good Risk Manager would typically consider the information received, and the sources for that information and use their prior experience, the credibility of the source, or some external resource - such as colleagues in the industry - to verify the information and its value or risk to their own operations.
Once you have received actionable information, you need to consider whether the information contains any risk or possible risk for your own organization. It is at this stage that a Risk manager would anticipate the possible risks contained in the information, the likelihood of that risk being realized, and the extent to which it could or will impact your operations.
Transporters can react in one of two ways to actionable and verified information that include risk: They can prepare for or respond to the risk, developing and implementing mechanisms to reduce or avoid it, or they can respond or react to a realized risk by deploying internal staff, contractors, and partners to secure their assets, assess damages, or investigate causes and losses.
Risk exploitation is the best response to risks that have already been realized - where you have already been attacked, where you have already suffered losses or damages, or where a collision or event has already occurred. We call those realized risks.
Since you can do little to avoid the risks that have already been realized, the best position to take would be to exploit the risk to your advantage. By limiting losses, investigating incidents, engaging specialist partners to investigate or analyse, or developing outbound communication channels to share the lessons learned or the dangers observed, you are in a position to reduce, limit, or eliminate future risks.
Technology and Training to reduce Risks of Night Driving
- Some trucks are fitted with very advanced lights such as cornering lights.
- In addition, look at fitting a quality light bar this will aid in visibility during nighttime on dark rural roads.
- Panic buttons, cell phones and tracking devices all assist with the early reaction to and management of a potential hijacking.
- Typically, a fleet controller is alerted by the tracking bureau and the fleet controller contacts the driver and informs him on what action to take.
- The best technology, when it comes to risk avoidance, remains the human component - the driver.
- No technology that exists, right now, is anywhere near as advanced or as refined as an alert driver, anticipating risk, looking for risks, or reacting to risks - if they are properly trained.
- In the absence of perfection - something we all strive for - there are a variety of technologies and training regimes that can assist truck drivers, specifically at night.
- While we have already discussed lighting, other technologies like forwarding GPS Warning (through services like Waze), live national communication networks (spoken message alerts sent to drivers), simulator training, and Video Route Risk Assessments are some of the passives told that can be employed.
- On the active side, drivers could become more alert, more aware, more capable, and more equipped to deal with risk realisation if they receive training specifically designed for this purpose.
Currently, and sadly, most Transporters still operate pretty much in “silos.” There is no effective national platform (to our knowledge) through which one transporter could alert others of risks, dangers, or incidents.
Some larger corporations may not want anyone to know about their misfortunes and there are others who lament the misery of their competitors but unless such a system is developed and properly supported, the criminals will continue to enjoy the benefits of surprise.
Safe Driving Techniques and Safety tips when driving at night:
- Make sure your headlights and brake lights are in proper working order.
- Aim your headlights correctly and make sure they are clean.
- Turn your headlights on about an hour before the sun goes down. This makes it easier for other drivers to see you at dusk.
- Be careful using your high beams. You do not want to blind other drivers.
- Dim your dashboard lights. Lights in the car can sometimes cause a night-time glare on your windscreen.
- Driver slower. Driving too fast reduces your ability to react to whatever might be in the road.
- Allow for more space between you and the car or truck ahead of you.
- You can avoid night-time glare by focusing your eyes on the right side of the road near the white lines, using the day-night feature on your rear-view mirror and keeping your windscreen clean.
- Take breaks to break up long drives.
- Avoid drivers who are swerving or drifting.
- Know when to pull over to a safe rest area to get some sleep or take a nap.
Until proper systems are developed, intelligence shared, enough assessments done, and operations aligned with modern risk mitigation strategies: Don’t drive at night.
A word of appreciation for the assistance received from:
Stanley Bezuidenhout, Forensic Specialist from IBF Investigations. Derek Kirkby, Training Director, MasterDrive. Paul Dangerfield, Hollard