More than a class full of kids in single taxi

2010-02-04 00:00

FORTY-NINE children, plus the driver and conductor, poured out of a 16-seater minibus taxi which had been stopped at Mooi River toll plaza by Road Traffic Inspectorate (RTI) officers yesterday morning.

Horrified traffic officers then found that the driver had been drinking and was more than five times over the legal limit.

Transport Department spokesman Colin Govender told The Witness that the taxi driver was on his way to drop the children at schools in Estcourt.

“The children, aged between three and 13 years old, were terribly cramped up, sitting on top of one another. There was no room for any movement and they still had a distance of some 30 km to travel.”

The taxi driver, who holds a Professional Drivers Permit, was tested for breath alcohol content on a Drager machine and was found to have a reading of 0,67; 0,10 is the legal limit.

“This is very high and could indicate he had been drinking before he started work,” said Govender.

He said the distressed children were transported to the Midway RTI station. “Some were worried they were late for school, but others unpacked their lunches and started eating. Their schools were informed that they would be late and they were then taken to school safely so that they could at least get some study time in.”

The taxi driver was arrested and kept in custody. He will appear in the Mooi River Magistrate’s Court today.

Govender said that parents used minibus taxis as they were an affordable way to transport their children to school.

“But sometimes the cheapest option comes at a price in terms of sacrificing safety. The parents were most likely not aware of the conditions under which their children were travelling.”

He said the success of any taxi driver depends on the number of passengers he transports. “They work towards passenger targets and if he makes his target early in the morning, he can go home for the rest of the day, so that’s probably why he had squashed so many children into the taxi.”

Govender said the overloading was a record for KZN, but that a taxi in the Cape had recorded over 60 occupants previously.

Caro Smit from South Africans Against Drunk Drivers (SADD), said this was the reason SADD was campaigning for alcohol interlock ignition systems to be fitted to taxis.

She said road deaths were the leading cause of death for people between the of ages of five to 29.

Smit said the alcohol level was equivalent to the driver having consumed seven units of alcohol or two quarts of beer. She added it was possible that the alcohol was still in the driver’s system after a party the night before.

Pietermaritzburg who have agreed to have alcohol interlock systems fitted to 36 taxis.

“There needs to be education and enforcement.”

Yesterday’s arrest follows an accident on Tuesday in Gauteng where 20 children were injured after the driver of a mini-bus taxi, who was also allegedly drunk, lost control of his vehicle and overturned in Kempton Park.

Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele warned public transport operators that law enforcement operations, targeting specifically public transport vehicles, particularly buses, taxis and scholar transport vehicles, will be intensified.

“Public transport operators and drivers have a responsibility to protect the lives of commuters and should not be only interested in making money. … We also want to … appeal to parents to take responsibility for their children by checking on the transport their children use to school, and to ensure proper licensing and fitness of both the driver and vehicle,” said Ndebele.

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