Taking the pressure off the stresses of life on the road

In National Road Carriers Association, August 20236 MinutesBy James SmithSeptember 5, 2023

The road can be a crazy and stressful place to work. A lot of that is caused by other road users who don’t realise how their driving behaviour affects truck drivers – let alone putting their own lives and others at risk.

The NRC team hears all the time from members about the antics of other road users – the motorist who tries to slip inside you on the roundabout, the driver who overtakes and then slows down to make a point about some imagined misdemeanour on your part, or the cyclist or pedestrian who tries to nip across the road in front of you when there clearly isn’t time.

That’s not to mention the stress caused by potholes in poorly maintained roads, traffic jams, and road closures for maintenance or to repair slips and washouts, large and small. We decided to crowdsource some content from NRC members so we could write about some real-life experiences with other road users. We emailed members on a Thursday morning and, within 24 hours, we received some of the most hair-raising stories and video footage imaginable.

A Taranaki-based operator sent video footage of one car driver after another passing his drivers’ trucks on double yellow lines, many narrowly missing oncoming traffic. It is very, very scary to watch. They provided the footage to (Best) be safe Taranaki and Roadsafe Taranaki for a recent campaign that has gone viral. The operator has 40 to 50 driving clips of dangerous behaviour that would be enough to test the sanity of any truck driver.

A manager from a large network operator says the most common problems include:

1. People merging on entering motorways don’t realise trucks and trailers are 23m long and don’t have a ot of options to let cars in – the cars speed up on the inside but don’t reach the front of the truck cab.

2. People change lanes and try to get between trucks and trailers, thinking the trailer can somehow let them in or back off from following the truck.

3. Trucks leave bigger spaces in traffic to be able to stop safely – it is not for cars to fill, jump into and brake.

4. People do not let trucks exit the heavy-vehicle lanes to turn right or swing into driveways to the left.

A regional contractor based in Northland wrote: “We recently had a phone call from a car driver complaining he couldn’t get past our truck and trailer travelling on SH14 from Dargaville to Whangarei. The driver said our truck slowed down on corners and sped up on the straights, and he couldn’t pass until it came to a corner. We explained there are no passing lanes between Dargaville and Maungatapere and only one slow-vehicle lane on one of the hills. He didn’t seem to understand why we couldn’t let him pass.”

What to do about this? We didn’t want to stop at documenting problems, so here’s some advice for drivers and fleet owners to relieve some of the pressure on drivers and make roads a less stressful workplace over the long haul.

For drivers: Remain calm, be professional and, where fitted, use your dashcam to record the incident. Button off and give errant drivers space, but never to the point of compromising safety.

Companies have tried putting warning signs on the backs of trucks, but a study using a driving simulator showed the human brain filters out most signs when driving. Sadly, truck drivers must expect bad behaviour and treat it as typical.

For transport managers/fleet owners: Have a process for drivers to let you know about incidents of bad driving so they can get the frustration off their shoulders. Have a process to manage video footage of incidents. Consider installing a system that enables your transport manager to remotely access cameras in cabs to support your drivers more effectively.

Waka Kotahi encourages all road users to report bad driving, and the police have issued many tickets off truck cab camera footage. Police did attempt to stand up a portal for dashcam footage last year but, unfortunately, it was canned. When the time is right, we will push for that idea to make a comeback.

The impetus for the NZ Trucking Association’s Safety truck was to address behaviour around trucks by delivering that to schools and having the kids enforce their parents. It would be great if Waka Kotahi would fund that project, as it has a real chance of getting cut through.

Also, on the stressy issue of potholes (and other roading issues like slips, flooding and overgrowth), don’t forget you can report these to local councils using the Snap Send Solve app – take a pic on your phone and send it in. Some councils are better than others at responding, but the squeaky wheel does get the oil.

Let’s keep this conversation going.