GREATER SAFETY ON THE HIGHWAY.
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An Inspector of Transport Vehicles Asserts that There is Too Much Neglect of Vital Matters in Maintenance, and Outlines a Scheme Which Would Entail Official Supervision of the Condition and Roadworthiness of the Vehicles.
(\NE HEARS on every hand that there is very 'L./little money to be made in the motor haulage business to-day. This is in a measure true, this unsatisfactory state of affairs having been brought about by the actions and operations of the many inexperienced people who have gone into the business since the war.
In the old days, when horse-drawn vehicles were the rule, a van which would carry a 2-ton load and a horse capable of drawing it could be purchased for a very moderate sum as compared with the presentday price of a petrol vehicle of the same carrying capacity ; therefore, there was very little abuse in the matter of the roadworthiness of the turnout and, further, a society existed, with inspectors all over the country, who could report and prosecute owners of animals that were being worked while in a condition unfit for the road.
At the present day the position is different. A small man wishing to enter the haulage business may do so by purchasing a second-hand vehicle, say, one designed to carry 4 tons, for a sum of £100, or less, or perhaps on the hire-purchase system. No one has any objection to the small man going into the business; but, where he puts into service a vehicle that should really be consigned to the scrap heap, there is a serious objection. The man has obviously no money, or otherwise he would have purchased a serviceable vehicle ; even if not necessarily a new one, certainly one fit for use and, at the same time, be would be in a position to pay for any renewals the machine might require and to equip it with new tyres when needed.
The man who, without experience or money, goes into the motor haulage business is entirely
responsible for the chaotic state of haulage rates to-day. He is competed to keep his vehicle in daily service, as otherwise he has no income ; he will take on anything, at any rate, to keep the machine going ;
he has no idea of running costs—his only ambition is to have three or four pounds in his pocket at the end of the week.
Men of this description exist all over the country, and they have had a very serious effect on the genuine haulage firms, who send respectable machines on the road.
Haulage rates during latter years, of necessity, have had to be cut down owing to the slackness of trade, and this cutting down most of the old firms were prepared to 'effect, and have effected, in order to keep the business together ; but the competition which the owners of cheap second-hand vehicles brought about is such that most of the established firms wish they were now out of the business.
How Undercutting Is Made Possible.
This brings me to the point where I propose to consider why it is that the purchaser of a secondhand vehicle is able to undercut rates.
Firms or councils hiring motor vehicles, or giving out contracts for motor haulage work, invariably show no interest in the condition of the machine or machines which are going to do the work, their only interest being that the work shall be carried out at the cheapest possible rate. This, of course, is quite natural. Therefore, there is really no encouragement in that direction for the owner to have a serviceable machine in good condition, both mechanically and in appearance. What is the consequence? So long as a machine has four wheels and can get along a road, it will be purchased at a price which is almost that of scrap iron and be put into service by someone. The following are the four salient factors in encouraging the cutting of haulage rates :— (1) The annual depreciation on the value of a second-hand machine is practically nil., (2) There are no overhead charges, as the machines invariably stand in the open overnight. (3) The repairs and replacements of worn parts are almost negligible.
(4) The owner is usually the driver, who will work 24 hours per day—Sundays included, if necessary.
Taking these factors in order :— (1) Toe owner has a very little annual depreciation in figures, as probably he would not pay more than £100 for his machine—assuming it to be a four-tonner. Therefore, he is at an advantage over large firms, who pay, say, £900 for a new four-tonner, and he can undercut the rates.
(2) The machine being in the open is obviously bad for it, but as a consequence there are no overhead charges. A garage suitable for a four-tonner would cost about 15s. to RI rent per week in the ordinary way.
(3) No systematic overhauling is carried out. Makeshifts are employed, which are very dangerous both to the driver and the public. This item will be billy dealt with under the heading of "Mechanical condition."
(4) Established firms usually pay their drivers a good wage, with overtime according to the hours worked, and, in addition, they give a liberal allowance for out-of-pocket expenses when the men are working away from home. If a second-hand lorry be owner-driven these expenses do not occur, except the out-of-pocket expenses when working away from home. Should a second-hand lorry be driven by a man who is not the owner, no doubt he will be a very inexperienced and cheap man, who has very little knowledge of the machine, still less of road etivette or of his responsibility to the public. Fifty per cent. is a liberal estimate of the number of vehicles which I contend are not roadworthy to-day. Doubtless, this figure will astound most readers ; but engineers who come into daily contact with repairs to, and maintenance of, vehicles know that the estimate is not at all on the high side.
The Mechanical Condition of Many Lorries.
The principal defects about these cheap and wellworn lorries are to be found in connection with the brakes. Steering gear, of course, is neglected and soft mild-steel bolts are used to replace hardened pins, etc. Some owners seem to be under the impression that if a machine has only one brake .operating, even inefficiently, they are justified in sending it on to the road. In most eases, the driver manages to struggle along somehow. If he be descending a steep hill he engages a lower gear and, probably, with the help of tle one inefficient brake, he is just able to bring the machine to a standstill— if he has sufficient warning that he hag so to do. He does not realize that, if his transmission gives out, he is helpless on a hill.
In descending a gradient, should the driver of this machine miss a gear in changing down and, provided the one brake he has is not sufficient to hold the machine, then he runs back into the ditch, or anything that might happen to be behind on the road.
Manufacturers of commercial vehicles make ample provision for the replacement of both brake drums and shoes ; therefore, there is very little excuse for the owner in this neglect of brakes and brake gear. It is recognized that some drivers can wear out a set of brake shoes in one month, whereas another driver on the same machine would make them last
12 months, or even more. This is due, of course, to the stupid habit of driving up to an obstruction,
or stopping place, and then slamming all brakes on. The correct procedure would be to anticipate the stoppage and to glide the last few yards with the throttle closed, simply finishing off the process of stopping with the hand brake, the clutch being disengaged, until the machine is brought to a standstill. The change-speed lever should then be placed in the neutral position and the clutch re-engaged, thus not only saving wear and tear on the brakes and petrol, but also the transmission and tyres. Yet how few drivers could be said to make a practice of the method described ?
Hand and foot brakes may be found quite in order with regard to the thickness of the brake shoes, or linings and drums, but the compensating gear and bushes carrying the pivot pins, cams, etc., may be seized up. The result of this neglect is that the brakes cannot function properly, which is equally as bad as the shoes and drums not being replaced when necessary. Defects such as these are considered very trivial by some owners, but when one realizes that the effect of the compensating gear not functioning in the case of brakes that operate on the rear wheels is that the whole work is done on one wheel only, one should be able to grasp the seriousness of the case, for, of course, braking on one wheel would tend to make the vehicle skid on every application, whatever the condition of the road surface might be. It will probably be argued that the bushes carrying pivot pins, cams, etc., on brake gear should be constructed so that they would not seize up. Most manufacturers bring into their designs schemes to assist this aim and object, but so long as lubrication (ample facilities for which are always given) is neglected, then the defects set out above will continue.
Some Typical Instances of Owner's Neglect.
The writer recently came across an instance where a 4-ton ex-W.D. vehicle was carrying a load of 6 tons 15 cwt., the hub-brake gear on the rear wheels of the vehicle having been entirely dismantled. The driver, on being questioned, stated that he was instructed to do so by the owner, as the shoes created a lot of noise on the rear wheels. All that was required in. the matter of repair was a set of new pivot pins and bushes for the straps of the brake shoes—the shoes themselves and the drums, in this instance, being quite serviceable. The brake parts removed from the machine were carried under the driver's seat, and the machine was still in this condition nine months afterwards. It is worth while mentioning that the vehicle was working in a very hilly district, and when last seen had, fortunately, not met with an accident, in spite of the fact that only the foot brake was available for use.
Another instance can be quoted from my actual experience, this time concerning a 52-seater doubledeck bus. The owner and driver of this machine boasted that they had had over 130 passengers on this vehicle at one time. This would probably sound incredible to most readers, but the fact remains that it was so. This machine was in service in an exceedingly hilly district and, at one time, when it was examined on service, it was found that the hand. brake operating on the rear wheels was entirely out of action—due to the worn state of the brake shoes and drums. The foot brake, which operated on the transmission, was found to have a cracked drum due to over-heating, brought about by prolonged application, and one of the shoes—of which there were two— was worn completely away, and the other was scarcely " wafer thick."
A Rear Wheel that Constantly Came Off.
Here is a further recent instance. A machine which should really have been on the scrap heap, or reconditioned at a cost of from £200 to £300, was found stranded on the road with a rear wheel off. The rear wheel had not entirely disengaged itself from the vehicle, as the driving shaft was still attached to the wheel and was supporting the weight of the vehicle at this point, although the wheel was about 2 ft. out of position. The effect of this wheel coming off disengaged all brakes, but fortunately the vehicle, which was loaded with 4 tons, was prac
tically on level ground. With the small amount of friction set up between the axle shaft and the rear axle bed, together with the friction set up on all the road-wheel bearings, the machine had been brought to a standstill.
On examination it was found that the thread of the axle-bed end was stripped, whilst the thread in the wheel retaining nut was damaged to such an extent that the nut could actually be lifted up and down when in position over the thread.
The driver stated that the machine had been in this condition and in service for the past three weeks, and the wheel had been coming off twice per day (there was nothing to prevent it). The owner of the machine was advised daily ,of this occurrence, hut he would not have the neceesary repairs carried out. He instructed his driver to get out on the road with the machine.
I suggested to the driver that he should not take the machine out in this extremely unsafe condition ; the reply came : " Well, if I don't, someone else will and, as I am a married man with children, I cannot afford to be out of work."
This sums up the whole situation. Drivers must be protected, and drivers must be made responsible for the roadworthiness of the machine which they are handling.
Since the war terminated there has been a preponderance on the road of second-hand petrol vehicles which have seen war service. Quite apart from any war surplus, there will always be s'econdhand vehicles in the market, and as the law stands to-day there is a strong temptation to put these into service irrespective of their roadworthiness.
The Remedy. .
In the opinion of the writer, the most economical and sure method of handling the situation would be to register all drivers of heavy road vehicles. (I leave others to argue the question as to the need or practicability of examining and testing drivers of cars.) A medical examination and efficiency test should be passed before a driving licence is issued. It would be a big job, in the first instance, going over all the people who hold driving licences today,. but, when once this work had been accomplished, the 'examination of new applicants would not be a great burden, and I am sure it would result in a great benefit to the community at large.
I would suggest that practical engineers be posted in districts all over the country and made responsible for all drivers and machines in their district. Each driver before being granted a driver's licence would have to pass his medical examination, which examination would recur every two years. He would have to pass a test on both a heavy and light vehicle and undergo a short oral examination, which would be conducted by the district engineer.
The district engineer being up to his job could ascertain in fifteen minutes whether the man was fit to be in charge of a vehicle on the road or not. A man, having passed his medical examination and practical test, would be granted his driver's licence, which would qualify him as a commercial vehicle driver, and it should be made a condition of granting a licence that he reports to the district engineer any negligence on the owner's part to have repairs carried out, which would be likely to affect the safety of the public and driver. In the event of a complaint being made by -the driver to the district engineer, the latter, who should be provided with suitable transport, would immediately proceed to the garage and inspect the vehicle, and there adjudicate as to whether the driver was justified in his refusal to take the machine out owing to its alleged unroadworthiness.
Should the engineer agree with the driver, the owner would then be given instructions by the -engineer to have the repairs or replacements carried out ; in the event-of the owner refusing to do so, or discharging the driver for having reported the matter, then the engineer should be in a position to assert his authority and to prosecute the owner, and penalties should be fixed on a scale that would tend to ensure that prosecutions were extremely rare.
There is no doubt but that the only satisfactory way of getting to the root of the trouble is through the man in charge of the machine. In the first place, he must be competent to handle it and, Secondly, he must be protected.
Great care would have to be taken in selecting the district engineers. Not only would they have to be good practical men, but they would also need to be of such character that the drivers and owners would have confidence in them and be able to look up to and respect they.
The district engineer would also be available for investigations into serious accidents in his area. At the present time, when accidents occur—especially fatal ones—one very rarely hears of a prosecution being instituted by the police on the ground that the i machine involved n the accident had been unroadworthy. Engineers who know realize that most accidents, such as vehicles running away on a hill, could almost always be avoided if the machine had been in proper order.
From time to time the district engineer could ascertain if the drivers were doing their work by stopping them on the road. He should have this power, but, should exercise it in such a way as to cause as little inconvenience as possible. He could call at garages and ascertain for himself if the machine under the care of the driver was in a roadworthy condition. In the event of a machine being found out of order, but still in service, the matter would have to be investigated and, if necessary, the driver's licence suspended for a period, dependent upon the seriousness of the case.
The scheme outlined above would not only protect the public and avoid a number of accidents (the tale
of which at the present time is "mostalarming), but also the drivers—the majority of whom, at the present time, feel no stability about their jobs and, consequently, take very little interest in the machines which they are handling.
To sum up, haulage rates at the present day are being cut at the expense of the safety of the public and the drivers, and both must.,be, protected.