As you plan for a well-deserved merry Christmas with lots of food, drink and gifts, spare a thought for the truck drivers who are under pressure to get you all those goods so you can enjoy your holidays.

Truck drivers have had a particularly challenging year. Like everyone, worldwide, Covid-19 has thrown them many curved balls. But truck drivers can be relied on in disasters, pandemics, floods, and all manner of bad weather, to get through and get the goods people need for their everyday life. Pretty much everything comes on the back of a truck at some stage; 93 percent of New Zealand’s freight in fact.

The lead up to Christmas and the summer holiday season add stress – not only are there more deliveries to make, there are people on the road who really shouldn’t be. Stressed, distracted, drunk, and/or drug impaired drivers seem to come out in droves at this time of year. The road is a truck driver’s work place and they share it with the general public who may not have the driving skills or desire to make that road a safe place.

The Road Transport Forum didn’t have a conference this year, or the opportunity to present the awards we normally do to those in the road freight transport industry who have excelled in some way. We hope to give awards at our 2021 conference in September – if Covid-19 allows.

We are right behind other initiatives to recognise the role truck drivers play not only in our economy, but also in keeping other people on the roads safe and sometimes, being heroes. We see and hear of many instances where drivers have gone out of their way to help someone else, or save lives. They are often first on the scene of an accident, which can be harrowing.

As it is for workers in many other industries, there is uneducated and unfair shade thrown at truck drivers. But without them, where would you be?

The Road Transport Forum is backing an initiative early next year – New Zealand Truck Driver Appreciation Week (22-28 February). This will be an opportunity to share stories about the good work truck drivers do and what it is like for them on the road. Remember during the New Zealand Government’s Covid-19 lockdown, while many citizens were enjoying life at home, truck drivers were out on the road without any public toilets open or places to get food, delivering to supermarkets, medical supplies, and other essential goods.

I was privileged to head to Invercargill earlier this month to attend the New Zealand Road Transport Hall of Fame event, which recognises outstanding contributions to the industry. Dates had been moved, to accommodate Covid-19 restrictions, but the event went ahead eventually and the first woman was inducted – Anita Dynes. A crucial part of the well-known family business, Anita is an iconic industry figure with interests in dairy, forestry and wine, in addition to road transport. The role of women in road freight transport is often overlooked, so even though it took until 2020, at least now that recognition is starting to come.

While the Mayor of Invercargill is experiencing some issues, there is no denying what a fantastic job he has done for his city. It might seem a long way away, but it’s worth the visit and the RTF will be holding our 2021 conference there on Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 September – and immediately following next year’s Hall of Fame.

Other Hall of Fame inductees were Graham Sheldrake, who as a tireless industry champion has assisted RTF with the launch of our industry traineeship Road to success; NZ Truck & Driver magazine (among other titles) publisher Trevor Woolston; RTF Board member and logging industry stalwart Warwick Wilshier; tyre industry legend Jim Black; and posthumously, Sir Jack Newman, who was instrumental in growing one of New Zealand’s largest road transport businesses, Newman Bros Ltd.

It’s good to reflect on the history of our industry as we plan for the many challenges ahead with a disrupted supply chain because of the pandemic; increasing scrutiny, rules and regulations; slow and poorly maintained roads; rapid changes in technology; and climate change and all its implications.

For a long time yet, New Zealand will rely on truck drivers to keep the economy moving and the home fires burning.

On a final note, I’d like to acknowledge that this is Mark Ngatuere’s last day at the RTF. He will be sorely missed by myself and our team here in Wellington, and I know by the wider industry. We wish him well in his travels and look forward to hopefully working with him again at some point.

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