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Traffic Accident Investigation in South Africa, disturbing facts.

11 January 2014, 23:36

Background

As an expert in traffic accident reconstruction with over 23 years’ experience in this field I am extremely worried about the quality of investigations of Culpable Homicide, Reckless and\or negligent driving, driving while under the influence of alcohol as well as the road worthiness of vehicles in South Africa. 

Examples of the above without revealing the persons involved are the following:

3 Counts of culpable homicide case

A case on the Van Reenen Pass, where a truck collided head-on with a vehicle.  The entire family in the vehicle, including a 6 months old baby died in the accident.  The only surviving member of the family was driving in another vehicle that was not involved in this accident. 

The photographs taken on the accident scene were only in black and white.  In most of these photos no detail is visible only the mountains in the background.  The police criminal record centre cannot find the original photos.  The photos that were visible are taken not to help with the investigation, but appear to be similar to photos that would have been taken by the media.  There is therefore a serious lack in their training on traffic accident scene photography

The driver of the above-mentioned truck was never charged with 3 counts of culpable homicide due to a lack of evidence.  The lack of evidence was a direct result from the failure of the police offer on the scene to ensure that all physical evidence on the scene was accurately recorded, photographed and measured.

Culpable Homicide Case

In this case a young girl died during the accident.  Tyre failure was blamed as the cause of the accident.  The vehicle involved was not handed into the SAP 13 as evidence, a requirement, but handed to the owner of the vehicle.  The reason for this was that nor the SAPS or the Metro Police had the storage facilities.  The result of this was that the driver of the vehicle involved, although he was criminally charged with culpable homicide, was acquitted in court on the bases that the state could not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the tyre did not in fact failed.  Again as in the above case, the evidence was not secured.

Reckless an\or negligent driving case

A LDV was entering a road from a side street.  The driver of the LDV stopped at the stop street.  He looked to the right and saw an approaching vehicle (BMW).  According to the driver of the LDV, the other vehicle was still far and he felt it was safe to enter the street, cross over and turn right.  He was hit by the approaching BMW.   His LDV was split in half.  He was flung out of the LDV and landed on the centre island.  He was declared dead on the scene by ambulance personal.  Only after his daughter came to the scene, they suddenly saw movement under the blanket they put over the “deceased”.  The driver of the LDV was in ICU for 6 months.  He survived.  The driver of the BMW demanded that the driver of the LDV be charged with reckless and or negligent driving.  After I have reconstructed this scene, I determined that the BMW was travelling at a speed that was more than double the speed limit.  Despite the senior Public Prosecutor was in possession of a copy of my report, the state (NPA) still proceeded with charging the driver of the LDV.  In court however the judge withdraw the charge against the driver of the LDV.  In this case it state prosecutors that are not familiar with vehicle dynamics and driving dynamics involved in a traffic accident.

More than 10 counts of culpable homicide case

In this bus accident case, break failure was given as the cause of the accident, by the driver involved.  The vehicle was mechanically inspected by vehicle examiner of the SAPS.  He found no mechanical fault with the bus.  An independent service engineer mechanically analyzed the bus and found that the brake system was not functioning correctly.  It had in fact no functioning brakes. 

In another case it was also found that there although a vehicle has past roadworthy the vehicle are in fact not roadworthy as certain crucial parts of the vehicle had to be replaced after certain kilometers has been driven, according to the manufacturers specifications.  This type of requirements will never be picked up by a vehicle examiner as they are only required to do visible inspection of the vehicle.  They are not allowed to strip the vehicle in order to accurately determine the different crucial vehicle parts.  In the event of an accident the defense is quick in obtaining their experts in mechanical engineering or metallurgic engineering to accurately determine any mechanical failure, thereby shifting the cause of the accident from the driver to some unforeseeable mechanical fault. 

Taxi and pedestrian accident case

A taxi hit a pedestrian that was crossing the road.  The pedestrian was killed in the accident.  Skid marks of 29m were found on the accident scene.  Due to misconception that it is always the taxi driver’s fault, the Senior Public Prosecutor send the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions to make a decision on if the taxi driver should be criminally charge or not.  The accident occurred at night with no street lights.  The pedestrian were wearing dark clothes.  The speed limit on the road was 100km\h.  The weather conditions were dry at the time of the accident.  The reason for possible charging the taxi driver was based on the very long skid marks of 29m found on the scene.

The truth in the matter is that a vehicle traveling at 60km\h on a level road surface, with a relative rough surface, will leave skid marks of just over 18m.  A vehicle in the above scenario traveling at 100km\h will leave skid marks of over 52m. 

Again this indicates a serious problem of Public Prosecutors including the Directors of Public Prosecutions who are tasked with the decision to prosecute or not in understanding the physics involved in traffic accidents and specifically applied mathematics. 

High Profile accidents

The RTMC, the body responsible for the reduction in road traffic deaths on South African Roads are currently not successful in their endeavors.  This festive season we are experiencing the worse death rate on our roads in many years.

This can be contributed to the above-mentioned listed serious problems with the current investigation of accidents in South Africa. 

The RTMC did embarked on deploying a “team of experts”  that are send to so called high profile accidents all over South Africa.  The criteria for such a high profile accident is any accident where 5 or more people are killed in as well as any other accident the RTMC believes is a high profile accident.    I refer to this team of experts in inverted comas, as I have seen their work first hand and do not always agree with their findings.  Even more alarming is the fact that in one of the cases mentioned above, there is no interaction, sharing of this reports compiled for the RTMC with the NPA.  This also explains why the NPA and the Department of Justice has launched their own investigation into the Pine Town Truck accident. 

This creates a huge problem as these accidents mostly involve taxis and buses and may be trucks.  What about accidents where only 4 people are killed it?  High profile actually means a person of importance.  In this rainbow nation of South Africa, where everybody is supposed to be equal, it is clear that when it comes to the proper investigation of serious accidents in South Africa that there are still people that are more equal than others.

The role of SAPS, Traffic Police and or Metro Police

There many different opinions as to whose responsibility it is to investigate accidents.  According to South African Law in serious accidents, it is considered to be a crime scene; therefore the investigation is done by SAPS.  However the biggest prom in South Africa is not who investigate the case, but who secures all the evidence on the scene. SAP members believe it is a Traffic Police function.  Metro Police officers think their functions are more towards being police rather than traffic.  The result is that very few officials are actually interested in the scene, rather than to clean it up as soon as possible so they can carry on with their other functions of policing.

Conclusion

There are serious problems with the investigations of serious traffic accidents in South Africa as per the above examples.  There are 100s of other similar cases. 

The problem starts at the scene, with whoever attends the scene, either SAPS, Traffic Police or Metro Police, through the investigating officer, the public prosecutor, the Director Public Prosecutions and finally the court. 

Unless the South African public demands accountability the current situation on South African Roads will not improve, but will go from bad to worse. 

Unless the genuine causes of accidents are correctly determined through thorough investigation, the powers at be will continue to waste taxpayers’ money on worthless causes.

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