Serena de Souza

South Africans don't get traffic

2006-03-24 10:54

A new traffic light has been installed on one of the main roads leading out of my suburb.

When I saw it going up, I cringed in horror, because my experience of newly installed traffic lights is that their initial installation seems to cause an even greater level of disarray than they are intended to correct.

The last new traffic light that hampered my progress around the city was installed near my work. Once it was actually working, everyone dealt with it fine, but in the three-odd weeks before it was turned on, mayhem ensued.

This is another example of a traffic rule that it seems very few South Africans understand. And in this instance, unlike with the confusion around traffic circles, I am as flummoxed as the rest of them.

What I do know

I know that when a traffic light is out of order, the intersection must function as a four-way stop. I don't know, however, how these rules apply to a traffic light that isn't yet functional.

A friend and my boyfriend have told me that when the white lines have been painted in the intersection, it then functions as a four-way stop until the traffic light is working. Before the lines appear, it is treated as the same kind of intersection as it always was.

This seems to make the most sense to me, and I also think that by my own adherence to the rules, I feel that I am less likely to get myself killed than if I cruise through the intersection as if it is my god-given right.

Not so, my fellow road-users. Their determination to use the intersection as it always has been is indicated by a vicious set to the jaw, and a kind of madness in the eyes as they accelerate along their stretch of the road.

Getting crossed

In the case of the intersection near my house, two fairly major roads cross one another. The one road had a stop street at each point of entry to the intersection; the other was an unfettered stretch of road.

The traffic light was put in place about two weeks ago; the lines were painted a week past.

The way I come along these roads every morning requires me to turn from the road with the stop street into the other road. Most mornings, some generous soul will slow down to let me in.

Now that the traffic light threatens to start working any day now, no such courtesy is extended. It's as if, given the looming prospect of their progress being hampered, people on the other road are seizing every opportunity to race through the intersection.

And when I return home in the evenings, if I dare to stop behind the white line, people behind me hoot furiously, and on one particularly hair-raising occasion even turned right from behind me, almost causing an accident.

If anyone can tell me what the rules are, I'd like to know. I'd also like to know why everyone is in such a huge hurry. Instead of getting hysterical, everyone should just take it easy. It's obvious that no one knows what's going on, so why don't we all just act in the best interests of road safety.

Installation woes

But, my biggest gripe is with the municipality representatives installing the traffic light. I see a number of ways that this installation could have been handled that would have made the whole process easier.

My first suggestion would be that they should make sure that the power supply to the traffic light is already in place before they put up the poles and lights. Three weeks between installation and actually turning the thing on seems a bit extreme, surely?

Given that this is apparently such an outrageous request, they should put up temporary stop signs so that it's clear that the intersection is functioning as a four-way stop in the meantime.

It's unfortunate that South Africans are so hell bent on murdering the people that they share the road with, but in this instance, the frustration is contributed to, in no small measure by the roll-out policies of the municipality.

  • Serena de Souza was going to write about the Coca-Cola Colab concert disaster, but honestly feels that no more can be said on the subject.

  • Send your comments to Serena de Souza.

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