Thursday, July 14, 2011

Freight Truck Drivers Know There Are No Universal Standards

(And Not Likely There Ever Will Be)
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – One of the oft repeated conversations when visiting any overseas state is the condition of the roads and, in particular, the standard of driving, something that affects the international freight haulage community more than most. In the UK the fact that the country has left hand driving status means repercussions for every truck coming into Britain where the driver will face a new set of problems whilst trying to control trailers up to 13.6 metres and road trains considerably longer.

Having said this, the variation in standards, even in local European countries, often gives cause for comment but the further afield one travels, this can rapidly become criticism when standards fall below acceptable levels in the view of the touring driver. Drivers are of course not generally viewed as the most patient of people when some other road user gives offence, and relations between such groups as cyclists and truckers are often strained, with some of the more radical factions more than ready to complain about the other, sometimes without considering their ‘adversary’s’ own difficulties.

Programs from the likes of the US authorities aimed at young drivers and Britain’s Freight Transport Association (FTA) to educate truckers on the difficulties of cycling go some way to help solve the problems but internationally much more needs to be done to improve driving standards across the board. A trip to the Handy Shipping Guide office in Thailand always produces a plethora of horror stories with accompanying photographs of mopeds regularly festooned with four or more riders, often happily driving the wrong way up a four lane motorway, at night, without lights.

Now, in a bid to improve standards, the authorities in Abu Dhabi have launched comprehensive plans to upgrade driving standards in the Emirate after published figures showed that speeding vehicles are a major cause of deaths there. Speeding, coupled with the non use of seat belts and the fact that many young drivers race each other are all to be targeted but already many observers are saying the plans do not go far enough.

In June alone there were over 3,300 prosecutions for speeding but even under the new four stage scheme many consider that penalties, consisting of a fine alone, are not sufficient, with a substantial number of critics advocating gaol terms for persistent offenders.

The Abu Dhabi scheme is intended to be fully implemented well before the end of the year and the initial stage, applying to the worst affected areas in Abu Dhabi city, is already under way. This involves an educational program using road signs and varying tarmac colouration to let drivers know speed limits are being lowered and enforced. Phase two is to ensure all road signs are comprehensible to English speakers as well as native Arabic citizens, with speed limit signs spaced only 5 kilometres apart, not the current 10. Road signs indicating changing limits will be made more numerous and more visible and police patrols will be increased and encouraged to prosecute all speeding drivers.

Whilst schemes like those in Abu Dhabi are to be applauded, consistency in driving standards will probably never be achieved due simply to the different cultural conventions in place. Many will remember the historic day France changed the priority on roundabouts to conform to the rest of the world and the howls of protest (not to mention the numerous accidents) it caused.

So remember, always think like a native and if you’re on the highway in Thailand and that oncoming truck flashes his lights at you, he’s not giving way, it’s just his way of letting you know it’s his road and your job is simply to get off it.