All the lonely drivers

All the lonely drivers

One of the single biggest disadvantages of driving a truck is loneliness. NICCI SCOTT-ANDERSON ponders this fact while in Japan – and comes up with an incredible campaign to address this concern.

I’m sitting calmly, enveloped in tranquillity, under the warm sun, with the soft branches of Japanese Maple draping the Sho-ten-in temple in Kyoto, Japan. Mother Nature, coupled with the brilliant artistry of the garden’s designer, have rendered the garden’s magnificence and elegance indescribable. No matter in which direction I gaze, a photographic moment awaits.

The gardens – silent save for the murmur of water over granite and the occasional bird stirring the shrubbery – are magnificent. But they would be even more cherished if I was able to share this moment of solitude with my soulmate: my husband.

This serene moment prompts thoughts of the inherent loneliness our drivers must endure on endless highways, alone but for the company of their own reflections. Social media posts from drivers capturing breathtaking South African scenery often bear the caption, “Where am I today?” perhaps echoing my own sentiments of loneliness.

The pressing issue within our industry is attracting skilled drivers, and a prevailing deterrent is the loneliness of this solitary job. This begs the question: If South African transport companies allowed drivers to be accompanied by family members on trips, could this reshape the industry’s image, bolster mental well-being, and fortify family bonds? Might it even instil a sense of legacy and pride?

In the US and the EU, it’s not uncommon for couples to team up or for drivers to find solace in the companionship of animals, ranging from dogs and cats to birds and even pigs (the latter, contrary to popular belief, do not emit foul odours). According to a survey, 56% of professional US truck drivers often travel with their pets, with 66% of respondents saying it’s for companionship.

My contemplation is interrupted by the sight of two ravens quarrelling outside, and I wonder: does having a companion distract drivers? It seems not. Turning to research for insight, I discover that the Mayo Clinic has found that having a travel companion can improve drivers’ cardiovascular health and mood, while reducing depression rates. Those accompanied by animals are more likely to take breaks, thereby increasing their physical activity and overall health. Beyond the physical benefits, the presence of a pet can alleviate anxiety, elevate serotonin levels, and decrease blood pressure.

Female drivers often report preferring canine companions for added security. Properly crate-trained pets or those secured with specialised seatbelts pose no threat to safe driving, according to multiple sources.

Additionally, traveling with a significant other can encourage safer driving habits, as drivers are less inclined to take risks when a loved one’s welfare is at stake. A capable companion can assist with navigation, manage communications, and even share in simple tasks like adjusting the radio – activities that, if done alone, can distract a driver.

Social support is critical for long-haul drivers, who are often isolated and distant from family, struggling to maintain functional relationships. Canadian research underscores the dehumanisation and isolation that impede drivers’ ability to forge and maintain meaningful connections.

What, then, prevents South Africa from embracing this trend? Perhaps it’s the perceived insurance risk. I reached out to Paul Dangerfield, head of trucking at Hollard Insurance, who expressed via email that Hollard would consent to drivers traveling with a companion, provided that proper indemnities were in place.

In light of all of the above, I propose that, in the first quarter of 2024, the SaferStops Association and corporate South Africa orchestrate a Driver Companion Campaign. This will be a period when drivers, with their employers’ consent, can take a family member or pet on the road. It would be prudent to analyse telematics data from this initiative to assess its impact – be it positive or negative. 

This campaign could mark a pivotal step in reinforcing human connection and dignity among drivers, while also strengthening familial ties through companion driving.

I look forward to hearing the industry’s thoughts and comments on this idea!

  • FOCUS wholeheartedly supports this concept. We are committed to publicising the campaign because it definitely has merit. – Ed.

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Nicci Scott-Anderson

Nicci Scott-Anderson is a serial entrepreneur with a special passion for transport and logistics. She is the founder and CEO of the Commercial Transport Academy, which focuses on promoting gender diversity and equity in the South African trucking industry. Additionally, she is the CEO of Zolabix, a SANAS-certified body specialising in RTMS and compliance.
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