Long Distance Driving by Ayhana Petersen

Long Distance Driving by Ayhana Petersen

My name is Ayhana Petersen. One of my main tasks in the operations room at Cape Town Head Office is to interpret the Mix Telematics reports on driver habits. It is always a good idea to combine theory with practical application, hence my decision to join some of our drivers on the open road.

I wanted to gain first-hand experience and observe the technical aspects of driving errors, as reported by the Mix Telematics Report System and to gain a better understanding of the driver’s scores on that route. Additionally, I wanted to engage in a discussion with the driver and learn more about how he felt. Initially, I had the expectation that I would be strictly observing Tyrone driving but our journey soon evolved into many discussions.

From a technical point of view, some expectations on the road are not always met, and it was because of that, my respect increased for all long-distance drivers. During our discussions, I learnt why certain things happen.

I experienced something for the first time in my life with a different outlook that allowed for an interesting and insightful view. The scenery alone drew me in, gave me a sense of longing and nostalgia. I felt as though I’d been there before, but all together never saw places so quiet and peaceful, so familiar. I am naturally a talkative person but the moment I saw the landscape, I instantly became silent. The noises of the truck and music faded, and all negative thoughts just went away.

Having had no experience with 18-to-20-hour trips, I would like to share my perspective on the hardships of a long-distance driver.

Firstly, for a dedicated long-distance driver, the truck he or she drives means more than most people realise. It is a bond between man and machine that no one can understand until one has experienced long nights and endless roads. This ‘bond’ makes no sense to many people since trucks are simply seen by them as vehicles that obstruct cars on roads. The hypothetical ‘relationship’ suggests that a mutual respect exists between the driver and his truck. The driver looks after and takes responsibility for his charge, therefore he knows he is guaranteed safety. The truck on the other hand, performs well because it is maintained and taken care of. The distance they drive becomes their therapeutic interaction. Their ‘package deal’ is non-negotiable.

My ‘Road Trip’ from Cape Town to Durban, and then from Durban to Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha) via East London, which began on Saturday 26th August, was informative and eye-opening. It opened my eyes to how closed-minded the ‘ordinary driver’ can be on the road. I say ‘ordinary’ because the limits a long-distance-driver pushes himself to are not as easy as they seem.

My driver was Tyrone Frans. This young man, who is only 22, and who has created a career for himself in driving trucks by being passionate about his job and taking an interest in various types of trucks. He is our youngest and one of the most self-motivated long-distance drivers.

He kept the drive interesting and informative. During the trip, Tyrone explained the struggles of dangerous roads and the expenses of life on the road. Unfortunately, we did not travel in his prized, star truck named ‘Genevieve LMC 217’ but instead, we journeyed in ‘Phoenix LMC 220′.

At the beginning of the trip at our Cape Town depot, I was excited and thought it wouldn’t be that bad. However, let me tell you, it was challenging and tiring and that was just the beginning. Although I tried hard to stay awake, I kept dozing along the way and ended up being just a mere passenger. I realised that I had been taking advantage of something called ‘sleep and comfort’. Once there is a limited amount of anything, you never know how much you have, until then.

Nevertheless, the drive started, and the scenery became beautiful and peaceful, so peaceful that I was so lost in it all. I became in awe of how someone gets to see this almost every other day. The silence was relaxing and allowed time to reflect.

As the hours passed, my focus began to dwindle while Tyrone remained alert. It clearly takes a lot to stay ‘laser’ focused and a great amount of experience to be able to stay awake for an insane number of hours, only to have ‘power naps’ when needed.

From first-hand experience and observation, I can tell you about some of the struggle’s drivers face that may seem minor but affect them a lot.

As an example, we understand that food prices are excessive. There are only garages, takeaway restaurants, or small grocery Expresses available on the road, and we all know how expensive it can be when you’re on your own road trip. Due to the lack of alternatives, prices are extremely high.

Which recalls the phrase that, ‘Beggars can’t be choosers’. Drivers live on takeaways, snacks, and a lot of liquids. They even become very familiar with the people they buy food from. The towns they visit and the locals they meet grow into old acquaintances in the end as they see the same driver repeatedly. It becomes a familiar interaction.

Sometimes, even the road itself causes complications. The driver must be ‘hyper’ aware in certain areas, not just because of his own life, but also because of the responsibilities that come with driving with a client’s cargo and the vehicle he drives. Many of the areas they drive through and the type of loads they carry are some of the struggles most people do not understand. One of the dangers includes hijacking, especially at night and while the truck is fully loaded. It takes a skilled mindset and a determined soul to go through such aspects more than once. But one thing is for sure, is that our drivers are hard workers and quick thinkers.

It might be difficult for them, but they put in the work, which reflects well on our company. In my opinion, long-distance drivers are the most in-demand group of people with the least amount of recognition from others. We forget that they must drive day and night through areas that we wouldn’t even consider driving through. Despite what they are going through, they often are allocated extras when their jobs are already stressful enough.

Their sacrifice ensures that most of the resources we need are always available to us. Respect should be reciprocated in the same way we respect other roles. In some cases, the drivers may not be right, but for many, the job they love carries a heavy burden of expectations.

There were times when I thought, why am I putting myself through this, but it was all worth it in the end. My experiences on the road gave me a better understanding of what long-distance drivers deal with every day. If it was only for those moments, I could feel how they felt and understand a lot more.

Sitting in a truck seat for hours hurts and I tried everything to feel comfortable. Your legs go numb; your back gets sore. It is virtually impossible if you are not used to it. The situation is ridiculously unpleasant, but giving up so easily would not have been a good sport. I pride myself on going the extra mile, so I gave myself a pat on the back for that.

It was refreshing to be proven wrong on many occasions, where you have set out to look for faults and errors. There are still those minor imperfections but there is beauty in it all. For that, I commend our drivers for being stronger than we think.

In the end, I do hope we all understand that life on the road requires strength with a good mentality and an insane amount of Faith.


-Ayhana Petersen

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