Rules of the road

2008-05-02 00:00

There was a time, not so long ago, when the greatest hazard on Pietermaritzburg’s roads involved little old women on Sunday afternoons engaged in unpredictable manoeuvres in cars almost as ancient as themselves. Recent press coverage indicates the extent to which this situation has changed.

The long weekend traffic police blitz in the city caught 158 drivers under the influence of alcohol. Even more alarming was the fact that 11 of them were minibus taxi drivers. Other offences included speeding, failure to wear seatbelts and talking on cellphones. None of this will come as a surprise to law-abiding motorists. A short drive to the supermarket will almost certainly provide evidence of the disregard for barrier lines, red traffic lights and the speed limit adopted by some drivers.

This paper receives regular complaints about the abuse of parking space designated for disabled drivers and it is shocking that some reported incidents have involved high-profile local politicians. An event was recently held at Liberty Midlands Mall to publicise its admirable new policy towards able-bodied drivers who show contempt for the handicapped: planned wheel clamping and fines are long overdue.

A dangerously high proportion of drivers behave unacceptably on the road. This provides a worrying reflection of national social norms: lack of respect for rules and regulations and general safety and wellbeing are demonstrated in behaviour elsewhere in society, Energetic official campaigns promoting safe driving and promising zero tolerance for recklessness are clearly falling on very deaf ears. And, far from providing leadership, some politicians even believe they have a right to break the speeding laws and endanger other road users.

Ironically, load shedding provides a small degree of hope. Many busy intersections are periodically turned into four-way stops and there have been comments on the smooth way in which they have functioned. Courtesy and consideration for others have been demonstrated in many instances. The challenge for the authorities is to turn such careful behaviour into a more general pattern of responsibility on the road.

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