‘Brakes did not cause crash’

2013-06-03 00:00

ALTHOUGH the brakes of the taxi that collided with a truck near Copesville killing 15 people in 2011 were defective, they definitely did not fail that day.

This is according to the evidence of brakes expert Laurence Merchant, who testified in the high court on Friday at the trial of taxi driver Khululeka Gwala (23).

Merchant is a private consultant widely used by insurance companies, law firms, the Road Traffic Inspectorate and Department of Transport amongst others.

Gwala pleaded not guilty to 15 counts of murder and four of attempted murder arising from the collision, and in his plea alleged that brake failure had caused the accident.

But in response to a suggestion by Gwala’s attorney, Mohamed Motala, that when Gwala put his foot on the brake pedal on the day in question he “had no brakes”, Merchant said this was not possible.

“ I would have to disagree with him 100%,” the expert said in his evidence.

He said for brake failure or “fading” (overheating) to have occurred there would have to be a loss of brake fluid or signs of burning of the brake lining, but he found neither.

Merchant told the court he had inspected the taxi’s brakes at the SA Police Service pound at Mkondeni in December 2011, three months after the accident occured.

He found that the left front brakes were defective as both brake pads were worn to the point where “metal grated on metal” and there was also other damage.

The right front brakes, however, met the minimum requirements, and both rear brakes qualified as being above minimum requirements, said Merchant.

He said the effect of this was that the taxi was still capable of stopping, but could be very dangerous in an emergency situation because the vehicle would become unstable.

Merchant explained that because of an imbalance in the condition of the two front brakes the taxi would have veered to the right if brakes were harshly applied.

In a normal situation the driver would be able to correct that imbalance through steering, he said.

The defects to the front left brakes were due to “bad maintenance”.

He testified the problem must have existed for several weeks prior to the accident on September 30, 2011.

He added that a driver would have been aware of the defect, because the vehicle would have pulled to the right whenever brakes were applied, even lightly, and they would also have made a noise.

The trial has been adjourned until July 8 for further evidence.

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