Frank Black, Opinion

Festive season foibles

Christmas is a joyous time of the year, except for truck drivers negotiating seasonal peculiarities.

As the popularity of online shopping increases and people are able to purchase cheaper goods online that are easily imported into Australia and flooding our markets, there is an inevitability that freight task will increase. In turn, this means road traffic will continue to increase.

This will only compound the current pressures drivers are under from operators who are in turn squeezed by their clients, focused solely on profits at the expense of driver welfare.

While I have often discussed the stress drivers are put under when rushing to complete jobs, I thought I would flesh out some additional issues, indirectly related to this topic.

Unhealthy food options

When we have tight deadlines which is an issue many drivers face and, as has been discussed over and over, we often make unhealthy choices which can impact not only our general health and weight but potentially our overall wellbeing.

We all know that a healthy diet is of great importance to good health and there is a lot of publicity around this. Unfortunately, this does not correspond to the food choices drivers are presented with on the road. For instance, on the current trip I’m on, when I needed a meal, all that’s available to me is McDonalds or other fast food.

Going back some years, we used to get roadhouses and we knew we could get a good healthy feed in relaxing surroundings. However, these places have been shut down, possibly from the lack of patronising from drivers who could not afford the rising costs even then or, as time pressures increase, wouldn’t even have time to stop.

This is especially so if it meant healthy hot meals were cooked fresh from scratch. So this means fast food has become a staple diet for truck drivers and people on the go, so much so that, they’ve even invented thinner pies you can easily eat with one hand.

At a wild guess, I’d say 90 per cent of these are in servos, so they’re picked up by road users. Fast food outlets must be doing a roaring trade.

In an ideal world, if we’re able to set better remuneration standards for truck drivers, we would have more time and motivation to focus on healthy eating and perhaps those old roadhouses serving hot meals could reopen.

Rest stop scarcity

With the Christmas season fast approaching, I wonder how we are going to go finding places to pull up and rest. In the last two hours on the trip I’m currently on I had to stop at three rest areas before I could get a park. It’s ridiculous that there’s not enough parking and this is only going to be exacerbated with the holiday period coming up.

However, there are other drivers who, I think, have it worse than me. As the freight task is growing, as mentioned, we are also getting larger vehicles, more B-doubles, B-triples and larger road trains. Unfortunately, the infrastructure hasn’t grown to accommodate them and the drivers of these larger vehicles struggle to find adequate rest areas.

Of course, holiday makers need the opportunity to take a break as well. They’re as deserving as anyone else, so you can’t blame them. We all know how dangerous fatigue on the road is. Even though it doesn’t always get the publicity of drink driving, it is just as dangerous. However, as all drivers know, it’s a real threat, especially with the extra pressures put on us at this time of the year.

Next year I hope to see rest areas and healthy food options start to improve, given the Government’s focus on the matter. It’s taken years of us calling for improvements but finally now we are being heard. As a member of the rest area committee chaired by Senator Glenn Sterle, I’ll certainly be monitoring these issues over the busy holiday period to report back and make suggestions for changes.

Sharing the road

With all the extra situations drivers face around the festive season, adding to the pressures already discussed, is accommodating holiday makers who aren’t used to country driving or towing a caravan. Approaching a caravan while driving a truck, we never know how experienced the driver is. It’s up to us, as experts driving large, heavy vehicles, to be extra cautious.

In these situations, it can be hard to find the extra patience when we’re always in a rush to please the client and meet deadlines, but I try to be a little more accepting about mistakes. Not everyone is a professional driver, especially on country roads and few people drive a caravan all the time. It’s frustrating, but not worth risking our safety over, or anyone else’s.

I firmly believe that truckies have a role to play in setting an example for good driver behaviour for other road users to follow. Even though some drivers might do something that might upset us, someone has to lead by example on the road, so why not us? Hopefully if legislation passes that eases the pressure on us, this will help make this a reality. We have to remember everyone needs to reach their destination and loved ones safely.

I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and stay safe on the roads!

FRANK BLACK has been a long distance owner-driver for more than 30 years. He is a former long-term owner-driver representative on the ATA Council.
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