There is nothing more devasting than waking up to news of yet another horrific and fatal road accident – generally to regular citizens who’ve done nothing wrong save to be on the road at the same time as a negligent driver and / or a poorly maintained vehicle.
The sheer numbers involved have numbed many South Africans to the horrors of road accidents, but many incidents still have the power to shock. A recent notorious example was the Godlwayo crash on the N2 in northern KwaZulu-Natal in which a speeding truck caused a collision resulting in the deaths of 21 people, including 19 children. A truly shocking event by any standard.
The reality is that South Africa’s roads are dangerous. In 2017, just over 14 000 people were killed whilst using them. That’s an average of over 38 people per day, or one fatality every 37 minutes. Pedestrians account for around 31% of these fatalities, and it has been estimated that the cost of fatalities and serious injuries caused by road accidents amounts to some 8.6% of the country’s GDP.
The fleet and telematics sectors have long been forerunners in the use of IoT type technology, embedded in the vehicles to mitigate internal risk, which now needs to be focused not just on operational efficiencies, but also for the safety of vehicles, cargo and all road users.
Road Logistics is here to stay
South Africa and Africa as a whole – is and will be largely dependent on road logistics as an enabler for economic growth for the foreseeable future. As the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) builds momentum, the need to move goods within and across borders will increase. In the absence of a fully functional rail system, we simply have no other choice but to make road logistics work for everyone who uses the roads.
“What makes this particularly frustrating is that these horrific events that impact so many lives could have been avoided (or minimized) by the proactive use of technology – most of which is already deployed in these vehicles!” So says Kamal Ramsingh – Founder and CEO of Geo Intelligence Corp (GEOINT) – a South African geospatial intelligence business committed to leveraging technology to make African roads greener, cleaner, safer and more accessible.
The European Union and parts of the Middle East are driving road logistics reform through legislation. These legislations are all directed at the proactive use of technology to assist and enable better driver behaviour creating higher compliance, safer roads, lower carbon footprints and hence more sustainable logistics value chains.
This legislative change will eventually trickle down to Africa – we simply do not have the time to wait that long (and we don’t have to).
Ramsingh believes that there are significant sources of expertise and innovation on the African continent to get ahead of this challenge. “There needs to be a clear commitment to collaboration between the Public Sector, Buyers and Sellers of Logistics Services (this includes retail) as well as Technology Innovators for this problem to be collectively owned and resolved”.
Immediate Opportunities for Technology
There has been a very limited reduction in road deaths in South Africa over the past few years. For example, while road deaths dropped by 8% in 2018, there were still almost 13 000 deaths on the nation’s roads in that year alone. That’s the equivalent of the entire population of Vryburg or Beaufort West.
The Proactive and innovative use of technology however can contribute to lessening the carnage in (at least) the following ways:
- Speed Governance – Mandatory in the EU and (soon) the Middle East, Intelligent Speed Assist devices specifically designed for African application, will significantly reduce the impact of speed-related “loss of control” accidents, enforce better driver behaviour and very rapidly have a marked contribution to road safety. The current proposed “80km/h” legislation is simply ineffective.
Using advanced data compression and edge computing (IOT) techniques, we need (and have) solutions that will actively assist drivers with speed compliance – regardless of road, weather or connectivity conditions.
- Managing Driver Quality – Even ISA devices can be overridden. Safety is therefore ultimately in the hands of the driver. The logistics sector needs to continuously track and reward positive driver behaviour. Whilst this might be done in some organizations, it isn’t done proactively in most. Telematics data can be harnessed to ensure drivers build a history of their driving practices (regardless of the company they work for or vehicle they are driving). These should be a mandatory criterion for employment, promotion and driver wellness monitoring.
- Proactive Policing – We need to deploy law enforcement at the times and places that matter. The telematics insights in South Africa will allow us to do that on a near real-time basis if there is collaboration between the relevant parties. The data and technology exists – we need the will to harness and leverage it for this purpose.
These are some of the technology-enabled solutions that already exist and can be readily deployed to make a near-immediate impact.
There is a systemic flaw in the logistics value chain which requires explicit collaboration to mitigate.
FMCG organisations demand their goods be delivered on time so they can meet their customer obligations; Logistics companies need to achieve this at affordable costs to maximise the return on their assets.
The consequence is that they deliver at all costs – saving time, saving money – but paying with lives!
The solution is threefold –
- logistics companies should be incentivized to implement solutions like Speed Governors. Incentives for doing this can be provided by both the state as well as insurance providers.
- FMCG companies should exercise their buying power and make it mandatory for logistics providers to install such technologies (ensuring the safety of both lives and cargo) and
- the onus of responsibility should be shifted from individual drivers (who may be driving dangerously, but under duress) to the logistics companies as well as their clients whose demands are contributing to the issue at hand.
The business case for the application of these technologies and supporting incentives has been staring us in the face for decades.
It is now time to move the conversation forward from theory to action.
For more information on GeoInt’s service offering, please visit: https://geoint.africa/
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