January 15, 2018

Road Carnage

I don’t know if I simply took more notice of the news than usual, but the recent holiday season seemed particularly bloody. Every other day we read about accidents in which multiple victims were killed or seriously injured.

There is currently a push to tighten legislation and reduce speed limits to address the high road death toll. But that won’t solve the problem. The people don’t obey the rules and speed limits that we have now are not going to obey new rules or limits that are put in place.

When I drive on our roads, I am surprised that there are not more accidents. On our highways people weave in and out of traffic, pass on the left and cut in front of other drivers. One of the causes of this is that many drivers ignore the keep left/pass right rule by hogging the right hand lanes. The rules of the National Road Traffic Act say that if someone indicates that they want to pass you, you MUST move to the left; irrespective of whether you are in the extreme right hand lane or not – if there is a lane to your left and someone is approaching from behind, you MUST move over. And it doesn’t matter whether the car wanting to pass is driving over the speed limit.

I think that if this simple rule alone was obeyed, it would solve half the problems on our roads. There would be a great deal less frustration and the need to weave in and out would be removed.  But I have never seen a traffic policeman pull over a car for refusing to obey it.

Then there is the attitude of drivers. It seems that a red mist descends over many people when they get behind the wheel of a car. They become aggressive, inconsiderate, impatient and impolite. I have never seen anyone push in at the front of a long queue at Woolworths or Pick ‘n Pay, but the number of people who think nothing of pushing in front of a queue of cars waiting at an intersection is alarming.

I have driven in Europe and the United States. Germany has no speed limits on their freeways. There you never see anyone passing on the right (they drive on the right hand side of the road, so the rule would be keep right/pass left). Where there is a speed limit, people obey it. Germany has one of the lowest accident and road death toll rates in the world. It is all about driver attitude. If you indicate to change lanes, the driver behind will slow down to give you a gap, not speed up to close it. If a cyclist is on the road, cars wait until they can safely pass by a wide margin. If a pedestrian approaches a pedestrian crossing, cars stop – in South Africa I get hooted at and shown rude signs when I stop for pedestrians at a crossing!

It all comes down to driver attitude. This is developed in 3 ways – by example, when a child is driven about by a parent, by driver education and by deterrence.

Judging by the number of inconsiderate drivers on our roads, we are not going to improve driver attitudes if we rely on learning by example.

Driver education in South Africa is a joke. Driving schools focus on the technicalities of the K53 system, which are promptly forgotten and irrelevant the minute the candidate passes the test. We need a driver education syllabus that focusses as much on developing a good driver attitude as the technical aspects of driving. This could and should be done as part of the Life Orientation syllabus at school.  If it were done over the last 3 years of high school, it would allow enough time for the correct driver attitude to become entrenched.

Then there is the question of traffic law enforcement. This has become a local authority revenue collection exercise with absolutely no consideration for its effectiveness. Daily you see traffic police speed trapping on relatively quiet dual carriageway roads where you have to ride your brakes to keep to the 60 km/h speed limit. There is a stop sign at a T-Junction near my home. There is no road from which traffic can approach from the left, so the stop sign is absolutely meaningless. But JMPD is regularly there fining drivers who don’t come to an absolute stop.

But I have never seen a speed trap on the R55 in Blue Hills, a narrow and dangerous road that regularly sees serious accidents. I have never seen traffic police on the alert for drivers who jump red traffic lights, another regular occurrence on our roads.

We need visible policing with many more police officers on the road, pulling errant drivers over for moving violations, not skulking behind bushes like over-enthusiastic prefects.

No amount of new legislation will make our roads safer. We need drastic changes in the attitudes of road users and law enforcement agencies.


Robin Twaddle

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