Road deaths

2008-10-29 00:00

A few days ago this column cited the importance of matric examinations as the bridge between childhood and a productive adult life — but did not comment on the youthful high spirits bubbling as the year winds down and as young people, viewing the exams as a rite of passage, begin to celebrate the changing phases of their lives. The trouble is that those somewhere between, say, 17 and 25 years old, believe — in fact know — that they’re invulnerable and invincible: no matter what they do no harm will befall them.

And then there’s a dreadful accident, such as the one that took place on the N3 northbound, near Scottsville, early on Sunday morning, when an open bakkie carrying 12 passengers, nine of them in the back, overturned. Several of the passengers were matric pupils. Four of them died and seven were injured.

How does teenage invincibility stand up against what now seem very heavy odds?

Driving conditions were poor: it was dark and wet. Also, the group had been partying and then driving for some hours — although whether alcohol was involved has yet to be determined — and they were probably tired. Further, as anyone who has driven a small bakkie knows, the heavier the load, the more difficult it is to drive the vehicle safely.

So who was at fault? Why did the young people not know it was particularly dangerous to overcrowd a small vehicle on wet roads at night? Why were no traffic authorities on hand to stop the vehicle and if necessary impound it?

Some of the survivors of the crash may be damaged for life, while the families of the dead mourn and will never be the same again. However, although it may be cold comfort to these people, the accident does provide a salutary warning to all the others who, as the academic year ends and the Christmas festivities approach, will be keen to celebrate and who may well be driving on our roads after doing so. It is important that they acquaint themselves with the rules of the road, with legal alcohol and speeding limits, and that, understanding these, they do not venture forth in unsuitable conditions or travel in inappropriate vehicles. It’s important, too, that as the year winds down traffic authorities are more in evidence at crucial times, making a determined effort to prevent foolish young people from hurting themselves and others.

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