START policing and STOP the carnage

2014-01-09 00:00

THE high number of road fatalities the past holiday season deeply saddens and sickens me and it also enrages me because these deaths should not have occurred and the road carnage should not have worsened. Of particular concern is the number of innocent passengers in buses and taxis as well as those illegally transported in goods vehicles that have lost their lives because of an unsafe — probably unlicensed — driver or an unfit and unsafe vehicle.

Families and friends of those killed will never be the same again — they will be traumatised by the sudden departure of those they love in a senseless killing on the road until their last breath.

As a concerned human being and former highly decorated head of traffic policing in my country, I am angry that law-abiding road-users are being subjected daily to the possibility of being maimed or killed by the number of unlicensed drivers, reckless drivers (especially amongst the kombi taxi fraternity), drunk drivers, unroadworthy and over-loaded motor vehicles, poor or no road marking and road signage, and flagrant violations of traffic laws that are not properly policed or enforced.

The road carnage we have in South Africa is one of the highest, if not the highest in the world. It is an embarrassment to and an indictment against our society and our nation. While it is the responsibility of every road user to know the laws and obey these, it is the government and traffic authorities who are responsible and accountable for ensuring that the traffic laws are obeyed and the roads kept safe. It is also the government’s responsibility to ensure that road safety education is taught to all citizens; that it has qualified, experienced, honest, dedicated and pro-active traffic officers on the roads; that it has a proper, workable and sustainable plan to reduce or eliminate road collisions and remove criminal drivers from the road system; and that continuous — not just over holiday periods — traffic patrols and enforcement of all traffic laws — not just a focus on speed limits — are applied to our roads.

The spilled blood on our roads at a cost of 14 000 lives every year at R157 billion to the South African economy, apart from the costs of injuries sustained by those who were not killed, cannot be allowed to continue, so you and your people had better get down to the drawing board with people who know what they are talking about and can help with proven workable strategies and tactics.

Let me ask you — what did your government do with the National Road Safety Council; the Inter-provincial Co-ordinating Traffic Committees; the regular propagation and dissemination of road safety literature and press releases; the high profile of traffic, police and emergency services at Roadside Rescue and Lighthouse key points along busy routes during holiday periods?

Would you like me to tell you what happened just to the National Road Safety Council? It was effectively disbanded because the organisation was too pro­active and exposed areas of neglect in road safety and law enforcement, so it was morphed into the provincial Transport Departments and died along with its record of excellence and the loss of skilled and capable officials who were dedicated to their organisation and jobs.

What have the government and Transport Departments throughout the country done about proper and effective registers of motor vehicles, drivers, offences, collisions and registered traffic officers that were to be set up? What has happened to checking of drivers’ records at roadblocks and checkpoints from patrol vehicles with onboard computers linked to a national traffic centre for which the card type drivers’ licence was designed and formatted to hold vital data? What have you done with the former Institute of Traffic Officers of Southern Africa — now the Institute of Traffic and Municipal Police Officers of South Africa — and why do we not see regular press releases from this body about road safety campaigns, enforcement projects and traffic related topics? It has a wonderful, colourful website, but how many people know about the organisation and what it is supposed to do?

There are drivers with valid drivers’ licences on our roads who cannot parallel park a motor vehicle or turn around in a narrow road because of a loophole in the driver testing system. Your department is aware that applicants for Code 10 drivers’ licences are tested on a goods vehicle to thwart the possibility of failing the driver’s test because of an inability to park a vehicle or perform a three-point turn. Yet nothing is done about this!

Your Road Traffic Management Corporation’s national plan to halve fatalities on South African roads has failed and now a spokesperson of that body wants to cast the blame onto all road users?

The RTMC was established in terms of Section 3 of the Road Traffic Management Corporation Act, No. 20 of 1999, for co-operative and co-ordinated strategic planning, regulation, facilitation and law enforcement in respect of road traffic matters by the national, provincial and local spheres of government.

The Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) commenced its operations in April 2005 with the main purpose to pool powers and resources to eliminate the fragmentation of responsibilities for all aspects of road traffic management across the various levels of government in South Africa, and to bring a professional approach and improved confidence into the entire system.

Its functional areas are reported to be:

• training of traffic personnel;

• road traffic information;

• accident investigations and recording thereof;

• communication and education;

• infrastructure safety audits;

• road traffic law enforcement;

• vehicle registration and licensing;

• vehicle and roadworthiness testing;

• testing and licensing of drivers; and

• Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto).

Just for starters, the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto), which was supposed to roll out all over the country, has failed. It has become a system of corruption and abuse of powers by certain traffic officers and authorities.

Your ministry, the national and provincial departments of Transport, the Road Traffic Management Corporation and traffic authorities through the land cannot and don’t work together.

Nearly 20 years down the line and we are feeling the actions of bureaucracy, infighting and downright stubbornness coupled with people who have personal and political agendas, who think they have the only solution to the problem and nobody else matters.

It is because of this that some of the blame can be laid squarely on their shoulders for the severe carnage visited on South African roads every single day.

There have been many plans, for example — Moving South Africa, The Road To Safety, and more recently, The Decade Of Action For Road Safety. None of these plans has succeeded because they have not been implemented in totality.

The fragmentation and itsy-bitsy application of the plans with an added lack of passion and commitment by some role players will never see the light of success.

I hear that the excuse for the failures is due to funding and a lack of capacity. Funding is available and the Treasury has monies tucked away for financing worthwhile and attainable projects and where the funding will not be misappropriated for personal gain.

I understand the Road Traffic Management Corporation is working on yet another plan. May I hint that without a policy framework which covers the largest employer in our country — the public service — with the potential to change people’s behaviour and someone to crack the whip, the “plan” will probably be doomed to failure from the start.

So then, what other “plans” are being planned while thousands die on our roads? It is high time all of you got your act together!!!

James Mills

• James Mills was formerly a traffic officer in Johannesburg, traffic chief of Pietermaritzburg, and deputy director: operations of the former Durban City Police Force. He also served for 12 years on the Natal Co-ordinating Traffic Committee as general secretary and later as its chairperson, as well as being a leading member on national and provincial steering and working committees and task groups for traffic legislation and law enforcement. He was awarded the Gold Medal in 1986 and the Medal of Merit for meritorious and dedicated service to the Institute of Traffic Officers of Southern Africa and the traffic profession in the Republic of South Africa in 1993. He retired in 1996.

TRANSPORT Minister Dipuo Peters will announce the 2013/14 preliminary festive season road crash and death statistics at a media briefing to be held in Centurion, Pretoria, at 10 am today.

Peters will also announce plans to intensify the implementation of road safety initiatives such as the resolutions of the National Road Safety Summit held in October 2013 and the United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011 to 2020 in further commitment to reducing the carnage on South Africa’s roads.

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