Truck Driver Appreciation Week is good news

In Legal Lines, July 20217 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineAugust 23, 2021

It is about time that New Zealanders recognise trucks as a crucial link in the country’s transport supply chain. Too many motorists take an ‘us and them’ approach when it comes to their behaviour towards truck drivers instead of learning how to share the road safely. It is estimated that by 2042, trucks will be responsible for more than 90% of all domestic freight. So, I was pleased to discover that from now on, every year there will be a week set aside to celebrate the hard-working truck drivers that deliver goods around New Zealand. The initiative was launched this year, and National Truck Driver Appreciation Week took place from 22 to 28 February.

A critical role

The road freight industry employs about 2% of the total New Zealand workforce and has a gross annual turnover of $6 billion. Kiwis depend on truck drivers to deliver the essentials so that we can keep living our daily lives, regardless of natural disasters, changing Covid-19 alert levels, lockdowns and all kinds of weather.

Exports and imports drive New Zealand’s economy. Without truck drivers, it would come to a grinding halt. Goods must be transported efficiently and cost-effectively, given that New Zealand is geographically isolated. That is why it seems fitting that Kiwis stop and think about the men and women in the trucking industry, who deserve recognition for the role they play, for at least one week a year.

Challenges of the job

Many New Zealanders probably don’t stop to think about the long hours, extended periods away from home, and the huge responsibilities carried by truck drivers trusted with time-sensitive, critical or dangerous loads. Instead, their focus is more likely to be on statistics about deaths from crashes involving trucks, which currently account for 19% of the road toll, according to roadsafetytruck.co.nz. This statistic doesn’t include near misses or non-fatal accidents involving trucks, which would represent an even higher percentage of the road toll.

Raising awareness

No one likes getting stuck behind a loaded truck, especially on a long journey with no passing lane in sight. Hopefully, Truck Driver Appreciation Week will acknowledge and educate people about the critical role truck driving professionals play in keeping the New Zealand economy moving and lead to a more sympathetic understanding of how skilled truck drivers must be. An appreciation of just how difficult it is to control a large and heavy vehicle, manoeuvre it through traffic at low or high speeds while operating in a stressful and deadline- driven occupation is long overdue.

Educating non-truck drivers

From where I sit, one of the recurring themes that need attention is educating car drivers about blind spots and what a truck driver can’t see. It is a common misconception that truck drivers can see everything because they tower above the rest of the traffic, but the cab has blind zones in front, behind and along both sides.

Rearview and side mirrors only provide a narrow view for truck drivers, so it is easy for a car or cyclist to end up being completely hidden. Continuous vigilance from truck drivers prevents many accidents, and while close calls are inevitable, it’s generally underestimated how skilled New Zealand’s truck drivers are.

Don’t leave it to truck drivers to keep motorists safe by anticipating the mistakes that they are likely to make. Non- truck drivers also need to be proactive by looking out for potential hazards.

For example, making a wide left-hand turn into a driveway is particularly difficult for truck drivers due to a truck’s length. It requires them to sit out towards the middle of the road or even on the wrong side of the road if the street is narrow before executing the turn.

Motorists need to bear in mind that once the truck turns, the mirrors are no longer showing what is down the trucks’ sides, so vehicles there cannot be seen.

There is a temptation for motorists to zip up the left-hand side to get past the truck before it turns without realising the truck driver will not be able to see them once they start to turn left. Add to this the fact that a 50-tonne truck cannot stop as quickly as a car, and it’s easy to see how collisions happen.

Motorists need to be mindful that they should aim to sit far enough back so that they can see a truck’s mirrors because that means the truck driver can see them and be aware that they’re there.

Truck Driver Appreciation Week seems to be a step in the right direction towards educating people who don’t understand the basics of truck driving. I only wish we had started raising awareness sooner.

Please note that this article is not a substitute for legal advice and if you have a particular matter that needs to be addressed, you should consult with a lawyer. Danielle Beston is a barrister who specialises in transport law and she can be contacted on (09) 379 7658 or 021 326 642.