Our lawless roads

2014-09-30 00:00

ONE might be excused for thinking that a large number of South African motorists have a death wish.

This conclusion is justified by the number of “near misses” by reckless drivers, that my family witnessed on our recent journey to and from the Kruger National Park.

It quite mars one’s holiday to realise you are completely at the mercy of so many lawless drivers, who are apparently blind to, or simply have no respect for, the rules of the road.

We observed many motorists illegally overtaking other vehicles on solid white lines in their haste to race ahead.

Further confirmation of such lawlessness was a damning photograph e-mailed to The Witness by a reader earlier this month.

Taken on September 15, it shows a KZN government vehicle overtaking a truck on a dangerous corner on the R56 in Richmond, without any regard for the double white line clearly visible on the road.

The matter is receiving the attention of the authorities. However, The Witness has not yet had feedback as to what action has been taken against the driver.

Another worrying factor, illustrating the “don’t care” attitude of SA motorists, was the obvious disregard by many for the “no cellphone” rule while driving.

Discovery Insure’s CEO, Anton Ossip, in an article featured on the Internet by Cover Publications, said that research shows that 90% of SA road accidents are due to careless driver behaviour.

Alcohol, speeding and distracted driving are identified as major causes.

The use of cellphones while driving was listed as one of the top causes for driver distraction.

According to Ossip, two-thirds of drivers use their cellphones, with many even texting while driving.

Although 40% of drivers have hands-free kits, 8% of their calls are made without using them, he said.

Adding to the lawless attitude of many motorists, the condition of the road network also warrants a mention.

Aside from the tolled main highways, the majority of provincial roads are potholed and in dire need of maintenance. Or they are in the process of undergoing road repair, which, while they are very necessary, also add to driver frustration.

The Automobile Association said in a report as far back as 2010 that South Africa’s roads are among the most dangerous in the world.

The root causes were poor maintenance, a lack of policing and reckless driving.

Since 2010, nothing seems to have changed.

In January this year, the minister of Transport reported that 1 376 people were killed on SA’s roads over the festive season alone.

The International Transport Forum’s annual road safety report last year found that road accidents cost the SA economy R307 billion per annum.

Over the past several years, local municipalities, as well as KZN’s provincial government, have had to fork out millions of rands in damages to road users injured in “pothole” accidents.

Earlier this month, uMngeni Municipality agreed to pay Lorraine Burns R450 000 to compensate her for injuries which were caused when her car was forced into a pothole on the road at Curry’s Post five years earlier.

Late advocate Alistair McIntosh of Pietermaritzburg won his law suit against the province for horrific injuries he sustained as a result of hitting a pothole while cycling on the P164 Rosetta-Kamberg road in 2004.

The case went all the way to the Constitutional Court, which confirmed that the Transport Department should pay 60% of all his proven damages.

Tugela Ferry widow Hluphile Zuma, who lost her hand and part of her arm in a 2004 taxi accident, which was ruled to have been caused by a “massive pothole”, was also awarded damages by the high court in December 2012, but the amount has not yet been settled.

Six years after he suffered serious injures in a pothole accident that caused him to be hospitalised for over a month, it was reported that the Durban High Court ordered eThekwini Municipality to pay cyclist Ian Vowles R1,2 million in damages.

These are but a few of the law suits resulting from pothole damage.

Insurance companies too are interested parties in claims as they are usually the first port of call for motorists whose vehicles are damaged by potholes.

Increased insurance payouts results in increased premiums for the already over-burdened road user and taxpayer.

It is time that both licensed drivers and the authorities undergo a change in attitude so that our roads become safe to travel on.

• Ingrid Oellermann is The Witness court reporter.

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