Chris Moerdyk

You can’t shock shocking drivers

2011-12-12 07:15

Chris Moerdyk

I suppose the traffic authorities in the Western Cape should be applauded for their decision to expose the public to graphic videos of horrendous traffic accidents because every little bit helps.

But, I am not convinced that it is going to help significantly in bringing down the country’s frightening number of road deaths.

Perhaps instead of these videos just being available online, they were run on the SABC and as public service messages, they might have a little more impact. I just can’t see the idiots who drive like animals on our roads going onto the internet to have a look.

So, who will go and have a look? Well, human nature being what it is, the voyeurs will want to see what it is all about. Those are the people who watch TV shows like Big Brother, The World’s Worst Disasters and only tune in to motor racing just to see the crashes.

And sure, there are a lot of them. So, why won’t these videos have any effect on their driving habits?

Bad things happen to "others"

Well, the psychology of human communication is such that people who see something happening to other people don’t really imagine the same thing happening to them. "Other" people get killed on the road; "other" people get caught and arrested for drunk driving; "other" people get HIV/Aids from unprotected sex; "other" people get lung cancer from smoking.

One only has to chat to friends and family to become aware of the fact that the only time something really sinks in about bad things happening to us is when bad things happen to us or someone very close to us.

Shock tactics have been tried all over the world and one of the most commonly quoted myths is that this worked really well in Australia. Actually what really worked in Australia was the fact that the police were very much on the ball and cracked down with an iron fist. What worked in Australia was that motorists knew that they actually weren’t going to be able to get away with anything.

Unlike South Africa where in spite of dire warnings about “Zero Tolerance” and the waving of big sticks, somehow only a few drivers actually get caught. The rest just carrying on breaking the law with such disdain that they convince themselves that they’re not actually breaking the law but rather just entitled to own the road.

Confiscate cars

Showing horror road crash videos is not going to stop that bus owner from trying to get away with one more trip in an unroadworthy vehicle; showing horror videos is not going to stop that idiot sending and SMS on his cellphone while driving at 180km/h on the N1; showing horror videos is certainly not going to stop taxis, blue light drivers and every other Tom, Dick and Thabo who feels he has the right not to be late for something and drives like a complete and utter lunatic.

So what will work?

In my opinion only one thing will cut road deaths. And that is for culprits’ cars to be confiscated.

Fines mean nothing to SA’s wealthy. They don’t mean anything to most other people either because they just don’t pay them. And as far as that demerit system is concerned – how can you take away driver’s licences when so many people in this country don’t have a driver’s licence to start with?

We need to do as they do in the USA and have video cameras on all our police cars that can show definitive proof of wrongdoing. And then take the culprit’s car away. We need to have a simple drinking and driving rule. No drinking and driving at all. Then we can bring back the breathalysers and if there is any hint of alcohol – you lose your car. And people who argue that they might be wrongly prosecuted because they took medicine with alcohol in it, well darn it all, read those package inserts “Do not drive or operate machinery after taking this medication”.  Alcohol in medicine is alcohol.

Shock tactic

Now of course, a lot of people will say that confiscating cars will probably be unconstitutional or illegal. Well, here’s news for you – try taking one crayfish out of the sea when it is below the minimum regulation size and your boat and car will be confiscated.

Dammit, if we can confiscate cars for taking the wrong size crayfish out of the sea surely we can do the same with someone who is behaving in a way that could actually kills people and not little crayfish.

That’s the only shock tactic that will work – the very thought of not having a car is beyond frightening for the average South African.

- Follow Chris on Twitter.

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