Getting to the Bottom of the Road Transport Regulatory Mess


The disastrous accident on the M13 has once again raised the issues around the management of road transport in the province, with various calls for different actions by all possible authorities. Rational analysis is required to resolve the problems with the regulatory system, which are far wider than just the control of traffic on the M13.

The toll fee at Mariannhill for the biggest rigs on the road is only R30.00, hardly a deterrent for vehicles that cost R14.00 per km to operate. The location of the weighbridge in Richmond road has a more sinister effect as it may well be part of the reason for diversion of 2000 trucks per day from the N3 onto the M13. It is significant that for the past 3 years the heaviest overloads reported in KZN (mainly at Mkondeni) have been containers; empty boxes from inland being used to transport bulk commodities, up to 100% overloaded.

Analysis of the recent survey data shows that 40% of the heavy vehicles are rigids (i.e. short-haul vehicles) and 36% are articulated combinations with only 15% being interlinks. There is no technical reason why the M13 can not be blocked to HGVs in both directions at Kassier Road; local deliveries only would then have to done from the Pinetown end of the M13.

A wider examination of the sources of the problem leads to evaluation of the South African regulatory framework, the “Road Transport Quality System” (RTQS). The system was defined as the result of National Transport Policy Study in the 1980s, which recommended deregulation of road transport. The Department of Transport recognised that this would result in rapid increases in the volumes of road transport and that there would then be a need for control of standards, as in all modes of  transport, world wide.

The Department of Transport and the Transport Industry associations met and agreed to collaborate in designing a system for the management of road transport of passengers and goods. The system, to be developed by Rand Afrikaans University (RAU), was to have the following elements;

  1. Operator registration (full details of the legal entity) with registration conditional on meeting required standards, including insurance; operating licences only issued if proven suitable, not as a right.
  2. Certified competent persons (to be registered by operation centre, individuals to be competent by training and examination);
  3. Professional Driver Permit (PrDP) (conditions to be applied, routine renewal, and linked to operator register;
  4. Register of all vehicles (to be linked to operator fleet, depot and competent person);
  5. Recording of defined offences committed by operators, vehicles and drivers
  6. Separate but linked modular registers for each element of the system and the requirement for monthly operator reporting of changes. The system was to monitor operator compliance and issue grading notifications.

RAU designed and developed the training courses to enable the registration of Competent Persons (which from 1980 -2013 have graduated more than 50,000 students), but the Operator Register and the Competent Persons registration was never implemented. The development of RTQS was outsourced and decisions were taken to create a hybrid system linking owner/operator to the vehicle registration and licencing program in the National Transport Information System (NATIS).This did not have provision for regular updates or any contact with operators. The PrDP was implemented, but is not connected to operator registration although it is a NATIS function. Delays are currently causing renewals to take up to 3 months to process.

Over the course of the 25 years of its existence the NATIS system has morphed amoeba–like, absorbing new functions and directions until it has now more or less collapsed under the weight of increasing vehicle related transactions, and then AARTO and eTolling and is now increasingly dysfunctional as reported in the Mercury Business News a few days ago.

To add to the above problems the systems for training and licencing of heavy vehicle drivers is totally defective in South Africa (and most of the region). The only really effective training centres for commercial truck drivers are those belonging to the major companies in the industry. Beginners in the industry learn “under a tree” or go to small driving schools to get Code 10 or 14 training using small vehicles. The training is incomplete, lacking the theoretical inputs necessary to produce professional drivers and flawed by the use of inadequate vehicles and the lack of professionally competent trainers. Modern rigs cost upwards of R1.0 million and few training schools can afford that. A survey by Durban Harbour carriers showed 30% of foreign drivers (who had also not been adequately trained and do not need PrDPs), and members reported that only about 20% of RSA applicants, with Code 14 licences, could actually drive a vehicle. Many others had bought their licences, and as reported by the AA of SA the NATIS system can no longer distinguish with certainty which licences are false.

In well regulated countries truck driver learners go through “apprenticeship “ stages from Code 8 (light vehicles – minimum 18 years old ) to Code 10 and then to Code 14 with the need for at least 2 years proven experience and certified training at each stage. This means that it is not possible to be driving a Code 14 HGV at the age of 23 with no training, belonging to an unregistered operator.

South Africa has one of the worst road accident levels in the world, with approximately 13,802 motor vehicle accidents per annum[1]. South Africa is ranked 25th out of 181 countries in terms of the frequency of accidents per 100,000 of population. The rate of 33.2 deaths per 100,000 of population is considerably higher than UK (3.59) and Australia (5.7) and ranks with some of the least developed countries in the world[2]. The proportion of accidents involving freight vehicles, within the total, is also unacceptably high (50% on N3 in 2012) but recent national statistics are not readily available. This unacceptable road safety situation exists despite having some of the most complex road transport legislation, “Zero Tolerance”, “Drive Alive” and widely publicised campaigns.

All of the above issues can and must be resolved, but it will be essential to go right back to the basic (and well known) principles of transport regulation and build an improved system with all necessary elements in place and working properly. South Africa’s national transport policy developments tend to be flawed by failure to address the basics; as in education, and health, so also with transport. Most of the problems were identified and recommendations made in the National Transport Master Plan (NATMAP) project about 3 years ago, but none of them have been implemented.

The road transport industry has all the necessary skills and motivation to create an effective system and if the Department of Transport again promoted this it would be a lot more effective than creation of another RTMC which according to the AA  “has failed spectacularly through its inefficiencies and incompetence” to address road safety[3]. The continuing replacement of Ministers and Directors General in the Department of Transport does not lend any credibility to the piously expressed intentions to solve the problems.


[1] Road Traffic Management Corporation – March 2011

[2] Wikipedia World Traffic Accident Data

[3]Forum Magazine RFA – August 2013



Nick Porée is a Consulting Transport Economist and freight transport expert. He designed much of the initial RAU transport diploma courses, defined the PrDP regulations. He was freight transport consultant to NATMAP (all modes) has consulted extensively to SADC and private sector transport companies. He is currently involved in the eThekwini Freight Transport and Logistics Study. He can be contacted at or