Located in the heart of truck activity in Dubai, the roads outside Ras Al Khor’s Fruits and Vegetables Market are booming with the sounds of thousands of trucks criss-crossing their way through the city. Some of the drivers will fuel themselves for a day’s work with some of the produce sold there, but many more may not as they continue to push themselves and their vehicles to the limit.

It is a suitable venue, then, to kick-start a new campaign promoting truck driver health in the UAE. Tyre giant Bridgestone and its local partner Al Serkal are working with the Dubai Police to tackle this problem head-on by offering free health screenings to drivers. All three organisations believe that healthier drivers are also safer drivers – and safer drivers mean safer roads.

Stefano Sanchini, regional managing director, Bridgestone Middle East & Africa says their Eyes on the Road campaign is the start of GCC-wide attempt to improve the lives of drivers and the communities they serve. It is a vision, he says, that can be traced back to the origins of the company in the Fukoma province of Japan in the 1930s.

“We actually started thinking about Eyes on the Road more than a year ago. We were discussing about our founder Shōjirō Ishibashi’s vision for Bridgestone as serving society,” he explains. “We were discussing about what it means to serve a society in the UAE, and in the region. With Bridgestone being the number one tyre brand in the world and the leading brand in this part of the world, we wanted to do something beyond the classical activity. We wanted to really reach our end-user.”

The Eyes on the Road campaign sees the setting up of pop-up clinics in a variety of truck stops in Dubai, initially, with the company planning on eventually rolling it out across the region (“it is really part of our CSR policy and vision”). At the stops, drivers will be able to get free health checks and learn the importance of being in the best condition possible when they are behind the wheel.

“As is always in safety, our two major concerns are what is important for Bridgestone and what is important for society. We believe this means, of course, delivering the best quality product, but also taking care of the human being aspect,” says Sanchini. “Safety means not just having safe tyres but also being in the right health condition.

“A lot of the time, these truck drivers have very long driving hours and they don’t spend enough time, or give the right focus and attention to their own health condition. We can’t pretend that we will fix the situation entirely but we can bring awareness: We can tell them what their health condition is: if it’s good or maybe whether they should go to have another check in a hospital with a doctor.

“The idea is really to bring awareness to the truck drivers about how important their heath condition is for them and for the community.”

Sanchini says the campaign truly started to take shape once the Bridgestone team freed itself from focusing purely on its tyres.

“Discussing within the team, we thought a lot of how people talk about the truck: we always talk about the tyres, but what about the truck drivers? Are we ever doing something for them? Are we considering how important it is? So, we started brainstorming together and we came up with the concept.”

The tyre sector, and the truck industry in general, has worked with local authorities before in the region, but Bridgestone’s desire to reach as far across the GCC as possible is as uniquely ambitious as it is laudable.

“This will be a pillar of our CSR strategy in 2020. So this is the first one,” Sanchini tells T&FME. “We will do it in other places in the UAE. We will do it in other places in the GCC. We will do it in other countries in the region. We believe that bringing awareness to the truck driver about their health condition is very important. And it is part of our mission and our vision of serving this society.

While Eyes on the Road has a region-wide brief, Bridgestone’s core responsibility when it comes to road safety is ensuring that the end-user is using the right tyre for their operation. The company remains committed to educating the market on the importance of proper tyre care and maintenance once they have been fitted to a truck.

“I spend a lot of my time talking with users and people can forget the key role of tyres in safe driving. When you look at the truck; you look at many tonnes of steel and the only things keeping all this weight and the amazing big mechanical machine on the road is the tyres. And it is the same for the cars, especially as we have quite big cars, very heavy SUVs, 4x4s in the UAE,” he remarks. “This is a lot of weight to move around. And tyres are the key safety element to keep all of them under control on the road.”

“A lot of the time when I meet people, they start talking about tyres and say: ‘yeah, I know, for my car, I want cheap tyres’. It’s like going to the pharmacy and asking for a cheap medicine. Trying to save money on your own safety is quite weird. And you can look at tyres like this.”

While we talk, Sanchini is full of praise when it comes to the work of Bridgestone’s law enforcement partners (as well as the quality of roads that are being used by fleets and other vehicle users). He feels they share a common desire to give drivers the best chance possible to make it home safely.

“We were discussing with the head of police that the condition of the roads here are excellent; it is state of the art and a worldwide benchmark. That part for sure is very well-maintained and the Police are doing an amazing job. What is left is the truck, the tyres and the driver. And tyres are a key element.”

He also says that he fully supports attempts to tighten the rules regarding the safety standards governing tyre quality in the market by local authorities.

“One important area where the UAE is working very well is controlling which tyres are arriving in the country. A lot of the tyres that we and our colleagues promote in the UAE through our partners are products that have been developed for this region. There is a specific technology behind this product that can fit the specific running condition of the UAE. It is important to ensure that is the same for every tyre coming into market so that we can give the end user a fair option to choose between all products that we fit the safety standard of the UAE in the same way.”

Broadening his viewpoint further, he says that the company is fully behind the ramping up of tyre regulation and labelling being driven by the GSO on a regional-basis.

“We are fully respecting the changes the GSO – the entity surrounding the standards for the products in the GCC – is making. It is extremely present in terms of understanding what is the evolution of the technology and in understanding what is the standard that the product should match when coming into the region. The GSO entity is really working with the government and with the industry to ensure that products coming into the region are better and better, more environmentally friendly and more safe. We are grateful to the GSO for all the work they are doing in strict collaboration with the industry.”
Whatever the rules changes, fleets should take their tyre choices seriously if they want to be better – and yes, healthier – businesses, Sanchini argues.

“Tyres can make a big difference Safe tyres means safe operations which means a safety driver and less problems for you, the truck driver, for the community around you,” he says.

“As in lot of other countries, we see the people developing more and more awareness about the importance of safety and as soon as yoi develop that concept, you understand the importance of tyres.”

On the other side of the rim, he says is the contribution tyres make to the operational running costs of the fleet.

“The right tyres will, on one side, maximise the mileage and, on the other, minimise the breakdowns. People also forget that the mileage is important but so is the durability of the tyre. Every time you need to stop your truck to fix the tyre, this is time you are your truck is not running. So minimising the breakdown time is as important as maximising the mileage.”

He adds: “You need to have the right tyres in these conditions. We’re talking about a region where people drive long distances, coming from Oman, from Saudi, with extremely challenging weather conditions and very high temperatures in the summer – the asphalt can be 70, 80 degrees. With all this, you need to be extremely careful when you choose your tyres.”

Bridgestone no longer considers itself as merely a tyre-maker but as a solutions provider. Sanchini says on regional basis that means it is working with alongside its partners and spending more time with the fleet operators, “to show them what it means to economically run a truck and what the contribution of Bridgestone is in this sense. We are not just selling tyres.

“What we propose and what we promote in the region through our partners is product that has been designed, engineered and manufactured for performing safely in these conditions. We want to go to the fleet and help them in maximising their efficiency in the way they run the business. So, of course, tyres is the key element (of what we discuss) but there is much more that we can do. When we talk with the fleet with our partners, we talk about how can we work with the fleet to maximise the life of the tyre, minimise the cost per km, work on their tyre maintenance, the safety of the drivers and their driving habits. So there is much more beyond tyre when we go to the fleet and work as a solution provider.

“When you work with us and our work partners, you don’t just simply get the tyres you get the expertise around the tyre in terms of tyre management in terms of total tyre operation and the experience of a hundred years old company that has worked with millions of companies where we manage tyres directly of our fleet customers. You get all this expertise together with the tyre.”.