Unbridled SA traffic laws

2011-04-21 00:00

THE Easter weekend is traditionally a bad time for traffic accidents, but its excesses also highlight the ongoing problem of hundreds of people who die every month on South African roads.

What are the government, the road traffic authorities and the people of South Africa doing wrong and where are the solutions for alleviating this tragic and horrendous situation?

The reasons for daily near-collisions and actual smashes are numerous.

The most prominent reason is the total disrespect and disregard for the rules and regulations, not only by many ordinary road users, but also by drivers of politicians who should be setting the right example for other users. Members of the government who believe that they have an unfettered right of travelling at high speed on the roads without regard for the safety of other road users communicate to the people that they have no care or concern for the safety and well-being of others.

Further disrespect for traffic laws can be noticed when pedestrians disregard rules relating to jaywalking, walking on, and the crossing of, freeways, ignoring red pedestrian signals, while

passengers sit on top of goods on the back of trucks, they hang out of vehicles and use illegal or dangerous transportation.

A lack of basic road-safety training in schools and in rural communities can, with some degree of certainty, be blamed for many road users not knowing how to use the roads.

Then there are the heavy-duty truck drivers who think that the road belongs to them alone. We can add the drivers of bus coaches to this category.

More than half the drivers on the road have no valid driver's licence and there are many false licences in the possession of people who have bought licences from unscrupulous examiners and who have never been tested for their driving competency.

Despite this, very few roadblocks are encountered where specific attention is given to checking whether drivers actually possess the necessary authority to drive on public roads.

Extortion by corrupt traffic officials defeats all efforts to ensure that traffic offenders are brought to book or pay legitimately for their misdemeanours on the road.

Monies from traffic fines that are due to provinces and municipalities are siphoned off by the criminal activities of people who have no concern or interest in eliminating road carnage.

The lack of sufficient numbers of traffic officers within provincial and municipal traffic departments, to patrol the extensive road network and enforce the traffic laws, and the absence of a traffic police presence all over the country between 10 pm and 7 am on national and provincial roads or streets, poses a serious problem.

The zero-tolerance mandate for traffic offences has been effectively weakened and made impotent by the fact that this is not true. On any one day one will see traffic offences being openly committed in the presence and vision of traffic officier and South African Force officers and no action is taken by them.

Unroadworthy motor vehicles abound all over the country — on rural and urban roads — but more frighteningly, on busy national roads. Again only

periodic roadside check points or roadblocks are conducted to check the roadworthiness of vehicles, notwithstanding almost 32% of road crashes have been attributed to unroadworthy

vehicles.

Too much emphasis is placed on speed-measuring enforcement at the expense, and ignoring a higher priority of, more serious traffic violations. Traffic law enforcement is supposed to be

scientifically based and implemented at high-accident locations which selectively deal with the actual range of causes of previous accidents at these locations, rather than willy-nilly speed checking. There is no

benefit in efforts to reduce road crashes and save lives by enforcing speed limits on a clear, straight section of road that has no road-accident history, while accidents continually occur in high-accident zones.

The state and condition of almost all the roads and streets of our country contribute to road accidents. When the wheels of motor vehicles hit potholes and corrugations, or when drivers swerve to avoid objects lying on the road surface, the possibility of a vehicle overturning and rolling across the road, sometimes hitting other vehicles or even pedestrians, is increased.

Until a respect for life and for laws are inculcated in everyone and traffic authorities become passionate about effective enforcement and saving lives, road accidents will continue to haunt us and place us all at risk.

• James Mills is a former Pietermaritzbug deputy chief traffic officer and deputy director (Operations) of the former Durban City Police.

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