Every year in South Africa, around 14,000 people lose their lives in road crashes. That is around 38 per day, of which typically 15-20 are pedestrians, and 3-5 are passengers in a public transport vehicle (bus or taxi).
According to Arrive Alive, the fatality rate has increased from around 21 per 100,000 population in 1998, through 27 per 100,000 in 2004, to the current 29 per 100,000, a 38% increase. If you consider the improvement in engineering standards of motor vehicles in that same period, these numbers make for shocking reading.
Of course we can blame certain external factors, such as road or weather conditions, or the fact that a single taxi or bus crash has the effect of wiping out many citizens in one event, but the fact of the matter is that we, as a nation, simply cannot drive properly.
Yesterday, I travelled between Bloemfontein and Johannesburg on the N1. With the exception of a couple of static traffic police vehicles, one speed trap, and officials attending to a fatal pedestrian accident on the Kroonstad-Vaal sector, there was no active policing whatsoever.
However the number of moving violations was vast, and I bring three to your attention here:
(1) A truck, tired of waiting behind another truck, pulled into our lane, and simply flashed his lights until we (the oncoming vehicles) moved into our emergency lane to avoid a head-on collision.
(2) In a Citi Golf, mom and dad were safely strapped in, but the child sat on the edge of the back seat, between the front seats, no seatbelt in sight. The driver of this Golf was also unable to maintain a steady speed on a generally flat road. We, doing a constant 130 on the clock, would overtake him one minute, then be overtaken at a rate of knots the next; this happened several times.
(3) Approaching an overtaking zone, three cars ahead of us drove directly into the right-hand lane, even though there was no vehicle to be overtaken! In general, getting a self-righteous FS-plated car out of the right-hand lane, in accordance with the first rule of the road, keep left / pass right, is next to impossible.
Driving is a skill!
I attribute our poor driving behaviour to the fact that so few people regard driving as a skill. The majority of South Africans behind the wheel see driving as a reflex. A means of getting from A to B. If we could stash them on a bus that took them to where they needed to be, they would barely notice.
The reality is the exact opposite. Driving is a skill. Some are born with immense natural talent, others are born with very little. All of us need to learn the skill, and continuously develop it. Driver training doesn’t end with the issuing of a licence. In fact, obtaining one’s licence should be the START of driver education. In a sense then, driving is like sex. Nobody is good at it from their first go. It requires lots of practice, and feedback about what is working, and what isn’t.
We also need to be able to self-analyse, to determine our own shortcomings, and to develop driving strategies to minimise those. Unfortunately, when the majority of SA drivers can barely manage a 10km trip to work through an urban area without committing numerous violations, and more disturbingly, not even being aware of them, we have a long way to go.
The developmental resources are there, use them. Defensive driving, advanced driving, collision avoidance, hijack prevention. Offered by numerous service providers, under various names. In the car, I have done collision avoidance (skidpan), and the defensive driving courses offered by two different companies.
On the bike, I have done a refresher course (since it was years since I had ridden previously) and a track school.
The effect in all cases has been immense. My driving and riding has improved, giving me more confidence. As well as enhancing the pleasure I derive from driving. I guarantee that you will experience the same.
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