'I don't want to be the cause of people's grief': SA's best truck driver
In 22 years on the road Stephen Meje has never had a traffic fine, nor been in an accident
“I do not want to be the cause of other people’s death.”
These are the words of Stephen Meje, from Qwa-Qwa in the Free State, who has been named SA’s best truck driver of the year, earning R100,000 in cash.
Witnessing road accidents while driving his truck has had a lasting effect on him and how he approaches his job, he says.
The horrific accident on the N1 between Kranskop and Middlefontein that claimed 27 lives in October is one of many that left him shattered and always encourages him to be the conscious when on the road.
“When I saw that accident I honestly thought of all the families that lost their loved ones. A truck was involved and I always tell myself that I don’t want to be the cause of people’s grief.
“I’m not saying the truck driver was wrong or at fault but I believe that sometimes if someone is conscious on the road, some accidents can be avoided.”
Meje says that sometimes motorists drive recklessly when they become impatient while driving behind a truck.
“When I see someone overtaking me on a solid line, facing oncoming traffic, I always reduce my speed so that should another vehicle come they will have space to come back. It’s all about assessing the situation,” he says.
But what really makes him the best?
“It’s simple. I just make sure that I adhere to all rules on the road. I never speed and I’m always considerate to other road users.”
Meje says that in his 22 years as a truck driver he has never had a traffic fine nor been in an accident, adding that he believes his good behaviour keeps him out of trouble with the law.
“I’m always patient on the road. I never put myself under pressure. I always plan my trips and stick to it. I make sure that I leave on time and that helps me a lot with ensuring that I do my deliveries on time.”
However, the father of three shared that because of the nature of his job, he hardly spends time with his family and ends up missing some of the important moments in their lives.
This year will be the first time he will be able to spend Christmas with his family and he is looking forward to that.
“2018 is truly a good year for me. All the previous years, I was always away on work but I made sure that I buy my family all the nice things they’ll need for Christmas.”
One of the important moments he missed was the birth of his son, now 13. “I was in Cape Town on work and my wife called to let me know that she gave birth to a baby boy. I felt like leaving everything and flying back home, but I couldn’t do that because I know that I have to provide for my family.”
Meje says that in a month he spends three weeks on the road away from home and gets a one-week break, which he uses to bond with his family and try to make up for lost time. “I make sure that I take my kids to school and also fetch them from school. I also make sure that I take my wife to shops to do shopping.”
When back on the road, his greatest fear is being hijacked.
He sleeps in the truck and sometimes criminals steal tyres at night.
“So even when you sleep, you don’t really sleep because you have to look out for potential threats and make sure that your truck and goods are safe,” he explains.
Meje says he loves his job, although he became a truck driver by chance. After finishing matric in 1992 his family could not afford to send him to university. His dream was to be a teacher.
He did odd jobs in retail shops and saved up to do get his licence. He saw the truck drivers in his community living better lives and thought he would follow the same path and be able to provide for his family.
He landed a job at a trucking company as a truck assistant in 1996 and shortly after that became a fulltime driver.
What he loves most about his job with Faith Wheels Tankers, which delivers fuel, is that it allows him to travel and know different parts of the country. He can speak most SA languages and understands all of them. He has also travelled to every province.
Highway Heroes is an annual event hosted by Hollard and aims to promote better truck driving. Drivers enter the competition themselves. This year more than 1,600 drivers entered the competition.
The winner is determined through monitoring drivers for 45 days using telemetry (trackers). They’re judged on speed, harsh braking, distance travelled and fatigue driving.