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From the “Bee in my Bonnet” column

THE first of this winter’s heavy rains brought to the fore the idiots who drive along in a torrential downpour at speed, with no lights on or just on parking lights, completely oblivious to the fact that they cannot be seen by other motorists, and other road users especially if you’re in the spray plume generated by a heavy truck and trailer.

It’s not as though turning on one’s lights costs anything – so why not?

As a first hand observer of SA’s driving habits over the past 50 years, my impression is that the average South African driver takes no pride in driving well – driving is just a function of getting from A to B in the shortest possible time and so long as the vehicle runs and stops after a fashion, all is OK. Perhaps that is a consequence of the 50%+ of drivers who have bought their licences and never undergone a proper test…

All the evidence of our dreadful accident and mortality rates seem to bear out this observation, plus the number of vehicles one sees with headlights out and inoperative tail and brake lights. It’s not just now and then, but all the time.

A lack of basic enforcement is high on the list of reasons for our road carnage – authorities are more interested in making money from the motorist than ensuring a safe environment and this coupled with lax or non-existent legislation simply makes matters worse.

A decade or two ago, I thought that ‘authorities’ were embarking on a meaningful approach to improve road safety when they launched with great fanfare the “Arrive Alive” campaign.

What a joke. Since its establishment road deaths have actually increased not decreased which was the remit for the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC). But hey, as there is no accountability, it provides cushy jobs for the chosen few who have the right political connections no doubt. (The CEO of the RTMC Makhosini Msibi received remuneration of at least R9,3-million in the 2020/2021 financial year, according to Daily Maverick 18 June 2022.) Why then, did the country’s lead agency responsible for road safety have a surplus of nearly R262m in its 2020/2021 financial year? Surely in a country with one of the highest per capita road fatality rates in the world this money should have been spent on road safety campaigns. When last did you see one of those? 

Statistics from the RTMC (Dec 2021) show, unsurprisingly, that the vehicles involved in the most fatal accidents in RSA is, wait for it, the Toyota Quantum and Toyota Hilux minibus taxis, representing a combined total of 1 600 fatal crashes. Drivers of the same vehicles clocked up more than 571 000 speeding offences, no doubt while transporting innocent, fare paying passengers…

Without the political will, nothing will be done to make our roads safer but here are a few suggestions for anyone in authority who cares:

  • Make daytime running lights (DRL) compulsory on all vehicles, especially minibus taxis and public service vehicles. A programme of retro-fitting DRL’s or making dipped beam headlights automatically illuminate while the engine is running (as legislated in Canada) could create a whole new industry and thousands of jobs.
  • Make mud guards on trucks and trailers mandatory on all such vehicles, on all wheels. This would reduce road spray during heavy rain and aid visibility for all road users. Additionally rocks, stones and road debris thrown up by unprotected tyres would be minimised. Again, a retro fitting industry would benefit job creation. A design of mud-guard ‘whiskers’ to contain spray and debris is widespread throughout Europe and the UK, adding to road safety.
  • As I’ve mentioned before, make yearly road worthy testing mandatory with heavy penalties (jail time) for testing station owners that that flout the law or accept bribes.
  • Instead of authorities seeking to balance their books with speeding fines, get the traffic police engaged in activities that make roads safer – apprehending drivers for dangerous moving violations such as running a red light, not stopping for pedestrians waiting at a designated crossing, defective lights, overloading etc.

Its high time that elementary road safety measures were taught in schools – the most basic “Look right, look left and right again” before crossing the road and crossing where it’s safe to do so, would undoubtedly reduce pedestrian fatalities which represent at least half of the 15 000 odd deaths we tolerate on our roads each year.


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