Trial by trailer: the need for regional regulation
The lack of consistent regulation in the truck body and trailer segment in the Gulf has allowed unscrupulous practices for too long: the negative impacts on road safety and infrastructure should really be acknowledged
The truck body and trailer population in the Gulf is characterised by a great deal of variety, thanks to its confluence of imported products, locally assembled and manufactured products and the detritus of decades of construction activity and the rickety remains of its support vehicles.
The current state of chaos is certainly a boon to some: namely the unorganised operators, for whom it provides a plethora of niches, and plenty of aftermarket work on the various old trucks and trailers that continue to plough the roads in the absence of stricter MOTs or stringent industry inspections.
It can, however, be an annoyance for the high-level operators who are trying both to bring in the best of overseas technology and carve out a niche for themselves as regional innovators with highly specific local products.
Across the GCC, the only real limitations that are both laid down in government writ and actually enforced are some of the basic structures on the raw dimensions of trucks and trailers: such as the 18m upper limit on trailer length in Saudi Arabia.
Qatar and Oman are the only markets that come close to adequately enforcing weight restrictions. Trailer manufacturers complain that when they try to obey the theoretical weight limits with their designs — by limiting the height of trailers — the unorganised segment thrives on the business of adding unofficial extensions to the original designs.
At first glance, the sight of a rickety old vehicle, carelessly modified by its owners, can seem quaint, but in actual fact it points to a dire need for more regulation and policing.
In reality, the end game of this state of perpetual disorder is not just competition in the market, but chaos on the roads — and this can only rise as the truck population increases.
The overloading of trucks and trailers might equally seem largely harmless — a quirky habit of developing markets — but it abruptly ceases to be harmless the second an overloaded truck has a brake failure or a trailer overturns.
Such quirks are the reason why even the most progressive Gulf country has road death rates that are two to three times what might be expected in more strictly controlled markets.
For the top players in the bodybuilding and trailer segment, they are caught between and rock and a hard place — satisfying customer demand or adhering to known best practice.
The cynic in me says real change will come only when the damage done by overloaded vehicles to premium infrastructure becomes apparent.