Blue lights, red anger

2011-11-12 09:33

Citizens’ fury at danger posed by politicians’ convoys on the rise

Blue light convoys have become a menace on our roads. What is truly astonishing about these convoys is their use of force and intimidation as a standard practice.

Some of these convoys break every known traffic rule – beating red traffic lights, exceeding speed limits and pushing other drivers off the road.

You have to wonder why politicians believe they need to be driven in this reckless, heavy-handed manner.

The driver who sees a car fitted with blue lights approaching from behind, flashing its lights impatiently has to make one of the most unsettling manoeuvres on the road.

There isn’t even time to look carefully to see if it is safe to change lanes with the lead car in the convoy breathing down your neck.

Imagine the terror new or inexperienced drivers go through when they have to hurriedly get out of the way of a charging blue- light car.

There has been little or no communication to explain how, why and when VIP convoys can drive the way they do.

Government needs to urgently tell South Africans when and why it is OK for blue-light convoys to drive through red lights and push other drivers off the road.

Otherwise, motorists will be baffled and quite rightly resentful.

In our constitutional democracy, it is very difficult to buy into the idea that there can be one set of rules for ordinary people and another set of rules for others, no matter if they are the p­­olitical elite.

Even if there was crystal clear communication on the use of blue lights, it is unlikely they would justify the kind of behaviour that puts other road-users in danger.

It is telling that drivers have no difficulty in moving out of the way of an ambulance, fire truck or any of the other emergency or law enforcement vehicles.

They understand that these vehicles need to be given right of way. But there is a growing sense that a huge chunk of the use of blue lights is unnecessary and that it is an abuse of a system that is unnecessarily shrouded in secrecy and confusion.

Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane said one of her MECs was on his way to an “urgent” meeting when his convoy knocked a young student off his bike in Krugersdorp on the West Rand last weekend.

But it is difficult to imagine how any meeting can be urgent to the point where an official does not hesitate to disobey clearly established traffic rules.

The tragic accident in Krugersdorp that left young Thomas Ferreira gravely injured should serve as a reminder that one set of rules for ordinary people and another set for leaders is a recipe for disaster.

Even if MEC Humphrey Mmemezi did have an urgent meeting, a later arrival would have been a sign of responsibility.

The response to this accident has showed a remarkable lack of remorse and an eagerness to justify and defend the use of blue lights.

Road-users and citizens just want a guarantee from those in power that they will do all that is humanely possible to ensure that such needless tragedies do not occur again.

It is no surprise, then, that the Justice Project SA has initiated a petition to ban the use of ­blue lights for all except for clearly marked enforcement or emergency vehicles.

Given that so many politicians at so many levels travel in these blue-light convoys, it is unlikely that they even understand why ordinary South Africans complain about traffic congestion.

Instead of being stuck in traffic for hours, they can just turn on their blue lights and blare their sirens, and when it’s convenient even drive in the emergency lanes.

This creates the impression that these VIPs can do as they please and, unfortunately, it reinforces the roguish behaviour among some drivers who think that if the VIPs can get away with such reckless behaviour, so can they.

By exempting themselves from the ordinary rules of the road, these VIPs come to believe that they do not need to plan their travel properly.

Instead, they rely on the magic of the blue lights and the wail of the siren to remove the inconvenience of other road-users so they can get to their destinations at truly astonishing speeds.

But the real miracle would be if VIPs could use the massive resources at their disposal to plan their travel and timetables effectively and stop relying on abusing blue-light convoys to exempt themselves from the rules of the road.

It is galling that these very VIPs are notorious for arriving late at meetings and this is what makes their abuse of blue lights even less acceptable.

Decent societies expect their leaders to set examples and not to flout the very rules that everyone else is expected to obey.

Surely it should only be in the most exceptional of circumstances that the driver of the most important VIP can proceed without stopping at a red
traffic light.

We are not at war and VIPs and their entourages need not drive along roads as if they are fleeing their enemies.No one wants to be intimidated by other drivers even if they drive for elected officials.

Maybe, just maybe, political leaders will do the right thing and put an end to the marauding blue-light brigade before another motorist is hurt or even killed.

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