Deadly risks taken by UAE truck drivers to earn more

Tiredness, overtime and driving too fast are facts of life for some drivers trying to boost their earnings with many companies in the Emirates paying per delivery.

A fixed-pay deal for driver could help road safety by minimising the incentive to work for too long, or speed, say drivers. Sammy Dallal / The National
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DUBAI // Drivers of heavy vehicles say their risky behaviour on the roads could improve if their companies were forced to pay them a set wage.

Although some drivers are paid a fixed monthly fee, many are paid for the hours they work or the trips they complete.

As a result, drivers risk fatigue-related crashes by putting in more time than they should or speed so they can fit more deliveries into the day.

Kulwinder Singh, 25, earns about Dh2,200 a month with overtime pay to drive a 25-tonne lorry, but says he is the exception to the rule.

"I have a fixed monthly salary but some companies pay Dh110 per trip, so people drive fast to earn more," Mr Singh said.

"Drivers should not be on the road for more than 12 hours a day. We need six to eight hours' rest and should ideally work only six days a week.

"Some drivers go fast because their companies want them to deliver goods to several destinations quickly."

With the assurance of a monthly salary, Mr Singh is able to drive more safely. He says he sticks to the speed limit, never answers his phone while driving and rarely works more than 10 hours.

"I check my rear view mirror regularly, give advance indication when I am going to turn or change lanes, drive in the truck lane normally and leave sufficient distance between me and the vehicle ahead," he said.

When Mr Singh needs extra cash, he drives for a few hours on Fridays.

"Unfortunately, life is expensive in this country and everyone wants to earn as much as they can. If there were fixed salaries for drivers and it was set for about Dh3,500 it would be easier."

Zuhaib Ullah, from Pakistan, drives a 14-wheeler trailer and is not on a fixed income.

"I drive to raise money for the education of my brothers and marriage of my sisters back home," Mr Ullah said. "Carrying loads that are not permitted feels frightening, but sometimes a company will ask me to do so."

He said he tried to take a break every four hours, "but sometimes when we are running out of time we have to drive continuously to get to the destination in time".

Avalon General Land Transport, which owns 110 lorries and 180 trailers, pays drivers between Dh350 and Dh500 a trip.

Robinson Rodrigues, the company's business development manager, says it keeps tabs on its drivers to ensure they are driving safely.

"All our vehicles are fitted with GPS," said Mr Rodrigues. "We constantly monitor the speed and behaviour of our drivers. If they drive over 90kmh, we will get an alert.

"If they cover a distance too quickly, they will be questioned. Time is essential for our business but we let clients know if they are delayed, and they understand."

Teaching defensive driving techniques, how to drive a lorry in fog or slippery conditions, and how to park safely during a breakdown are crucial, he said.

And drivers should never be allowed to be on the roads for more than 10 hours a day.

Despite these steps, Mr Rodrigues said accidents could never be completely eradicated.

"You can take precautions but you can't completely prevent accidents. Accidents are a reality," he said.

That is not the view of Dino Kalivas, the director of training at Emirates Driving. He said that research showed 90 per cent of crashes are caused by human error.

"Someone is making a simple mistake," Mr Kalivas said. "If we are to dissect the whole concept of human error, there are key parts of it - fatigue, speeding and inattention or being distracted from the task of driving.

"When we are tired, we can't concentrate well and our ability to assess risk diminishes quickly."

Shoiab Khan from Pakistan drives workers from Salam City in Hameem to Abu Dhabi city and Mohammed bin Zayed City every morning.

"Everybody is in hurry," Mr Khan said. "They don't care and don't stick to their lanes. Being late by three to five minutes does not make any difference, but driving recklessly could be fatal."

with reporting by Anwar Ahmad, Mohammed N Al Khan, Preeti Kannan, Ramona Ruiz and Thamer Al Subaihi