Long-distance driving is known to play havoc on the mind, hypnotising exhausted drivers to the point of simply nodding off at the wheel, their vehicles veering off the road or into oncoming traffic.
Realising the dangers of exhausted drivers on the road, the Western Cape Traffic Department decided it was time to start enforcing nap time for public transport drivers.
Long-distance taxi, bus and truck operators have their own time pressures – with passengers keen to get to their destinations, customers waiting on stock and bosses pushing them to arrive, turn around and do it all over again.
But all it takes is a split second unintentional nod-off at the wheel to cause a massive tragedy, due to “driver fatigue”.
The dreaded long stretch between Beaufort West and Laingsburg in either searing heat during the day, or endless monotony during the night, has a reputation for lulling drivers to sleep.
Provincial Traffic Chief Kenny Africa said the department decided to try out a programme to pull over motorists along that long stretch simply to check if they were tired.
It has been going for a few years, and has been a success in contributing to reducing fatalities.
Between December 1, 2019 and January 15, 2020, the Western Cape reported 160 road fatalities, compared with 207 in 2018.
In total 5 445 719 vehicles entered the province in 2019, compared to 4 908 481 in 2018.
Health checks done on truck drivers
Provincial traffic stopped and checked 218 017 vehicles in 2019 compared to 132 760 in 2018.
The drivers were pulled over and assessed along the route, and this past festive season over 9 000 public transport vehicles were stopped and 900 drivers were ordered to sleep.
Africa said a tired person behind the wheel is as dangerous as a drunk driver.
Officials also conducted random blood tests, and health checks on truck drivers.
One truck driver’s blood pressure was 189/40, considered dangerously high.
The sleeping taxi drivers were not allowed to set off again until they had between four to five hours’ sleep.
“Everybody is on board with us because they know it’s about their own safety,” Africa told News24.
“They are very supportive of this initiative. Taxis are pulled off at the roadblock and parked in a safe space.”
Western Cape Transport and Public Works MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela said there were no fatalities recorded for public transport vehicles in the period monitored.
He praised driver behaviour and the officers monitoring the network of roads for the improved safety statistics.