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Do South African drivers really have a death wish?

29 December 2012, 13:44
Over the past month I have heard a senior traffic officer say, 'It seems as if SA drivers have a death wish' at least 10 times. It is pointed out on radio, TV and in the printed media that we need to drive more carefully, reduce speed, don't drink and drive, etc. There are also plenty of campaigns such as Arrive Alive and Crisis on Call, roadblocks are held regularly and we even see situations where vehicles are stopped simply for the police to remind drivers to be sensible but these seem to have absolutely no effect whatsoever. Do we really have a death wish when on the road?

We all know the rules of the road - well those of us who went through driver training schools anyway which should include the majority of motorists on our roads. Yet day after day there are tragic accidents, over 1000 dead since the beginning of December 2012 alone! Authorities have lots of campaigns and there are excellent laws available to police traffic offenders but the situation just does not improve. Year after year, holiday season after holiday season and in between as well each of us learns of a friend or family who has someone die in an accident. Again the question, 'Do we really have a death wish?'

Many blame the taxi drivers or the bus drivers or anyone of another race, age or sex but never themselves. We have become a nation where obeying the law is not even considered an option most of the time. If you ever travel at 60km/hr on an urban road you can be almost certain that drivers behind you will begin flashing their lights and hooting at you. What is the rush?

Besides speed we all happily ignore rules such as not speaking on a cellphone while driving or wearing a seatbelt. In a 50km journey this week I personally witnessed 5 people talking on their phones. We were behind each of the vehicles and it was clear that the driver was not really concentrating as his/her speed was fluctuating and they were weaving across lanes. As we passed them it was confirmed that they were having a long, chatty conversation. None of the 5 was the same race, sex or age. It was a complete cross section and they seemed completely unconcerned that their actions might lead to frustration and even road rage or even worse.

Besides not obeying the rules of the road, for some reason many parents seem to think that, once children are able to say whether or not they want to be belted into a seat, the child is allowed to make the decision. Knowing a child, he does not wish to be strapped into anything; he screams, kicks and generally throws a tantrum so the parent gives in. Mommy climbs into her seat and, usually, puts on her seatbelt and off they go. The 2-year old stands on the back seat, puts his head out of the window, stands between the seats or is even allowed to stand on the front seat! Come on parents - why are you scared of your children? Take charge and save their lives. They are too young to make this decision. The head of a child under the age of 7 is heavier than the rest of the body so on impact they are thrown forward, head first. In 2011 the Red Cross Children's Hospital in Cape Town treated over 1000 children from vehicle accidents and, of these, only 34 had been restrained. As far as I am concerned, not restraining a child in a car should be considered attempted manslaughter.

What seems to be a really serious problem, according to the Road Traffic Inspectorate, is that drivers are determined to pass another vehicle regardless of whether there is a blind rise, white line or oncoming vehicles. Each driver seems to think that he/she can get past if they really speed up. We don't seem to see the journey as part of a holiday. We just want to 'get there'. We South Africans are too quick to get irritated when driving and spend time shouting and signing our frustrations to other drivers.

No matter how many campaigns, reports and begging by authorities take place, it will make no difference until we put into practice the laws which are there and do this all the time. We have October as traffic month so there are plenty of police out on the roads and we have messages given on radio etc for 1 month, then it is all forgotten again. In December it starts again but as soon as the school holidays are over, time to sit in their cars watching the speed trap they have set up on a bridge. Yes, this is just what happens daily on a bridge near Gateway shopping centre!

What can be done? Children should be taught the rules of the road from pre-school age, parents need to take more responsibility for their children and all who travel in their cars and stiff, visible policing should happen 365 days a year.

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