We’re fatter, so taxis are death traps

2010-12-19 10:47

An “unrealistic” and “outdated” government regulation has turned minibus taxis operating on South Africa’s roads into ­potential death traps.

The 2003 National Road Traffic Regulation, which is used to ­determine the maximum seating capacity of a vehicle, calculates the average mass of a person, together with their hand ­luggage, at only 68kg.

A damning report by a ­Western Cape parliamentary working committee that was completed earlier this month has called for the regulation to be urgently “revisited” and states that it is “not realistic, because the average South African’s mass is 80-90kg”.

The excess weight, which is not taken into account when the vehicle is certified, increases stress on rear axles and tyres.

“When this is combined with passenger or luggage overload, unbalanced trailers, poor tyres and speeding, accidents occur,” the report said.

“This should be a matter of national priority,” Mark Wiley, DA member of the provincial parliament and chairperson of the committee, told City Press this week.

“They are trading with people’s lives. It’s as simple as that. The fact that the law is completely out of kilter and deficient is bad enough, but the fact that they know it is resulting in fatalities and injuries is absolutely criminal.

“Technically speaking, nearly every single (fully laden) ­passenger vehicle in South ­Africa would be overweight if the average considered mass of passengers is between 80kg
and 90kg.

According to the report: “If 90kg is used as an average, then a taxi that is currently certified to carry 16 passengers will only be able to carry 12 passengers legally.”

Deputy transport minister ­Jeremy Cronin expressed concern about the ­regulation.

“We do need to move in the direction of 75kg.

“It is not going to be an easy one to enforce ... but we can’t allow commercial interests, as petty and survivalist as they might often be, to trump ­passenger safety.”

But he said it would take some time to implement a new standard and moves in that ­direction would have to take ­into account the “realities of South Africa”.

“Over 60% of public transport users are reliant on minibuses ... If one took all the non-compliant taxis off the road tomorrow, there would be a ­popular revolt, not just from the side of the taxis, but from ordinary people who are dependent on them for mobility,” he said.

Cronin’s spokesperson, Sam Monareng, said the department had reviewed the regulation ­“after representation from the industry to the effect that it is not attainable”.

He said the department ­intended to increase the ­measure to 75kg, but the regulation had yet to be formally amended.

“This implies that the seating arrangement has to be ­reconfigured as the new weight would have an impact on the overall manufacturer’s vehicle carrying capacity.”

There are an estimated ­150 000 taxis on South Africa’s roads and, according to a study done by the Automobile ­Association (AA), there are an average of 70 000 accidents a year involving
taxis, double the rate of crashes for all other ­passenger vehicles.

Overloading is one of the key causes of accidents on the ­country’s roads.

John Roberts, who represents the retail motor industry’s SA Vehicle and Bodybuilders’ ­Association on a transport department technical committee, says “68kg including luggage is outdated and one has to bear in mind that the international standard is 75kg”.

He says he is aware the ­Department of Transport is ­intent on changing the current regulation, but says it could take “some time” because “the matter is very complex” and would have “dire consequences for the whole public transport industry”.

“They inherited the present situation from the previous leadership and they, in turn, inherited the same mess from the ­previous government.”

A hard-hitting report compiled by Roberts and submitted to the Western Cape committee as part of a submission he made earlier this year, states: “Our vehicles are legal when they leave the factory, but illegal after they load passengers at the rank.

“In a perverse way, this is ­legalised homicide, as the ­operator and public are in good faith utilising public transport that should be reasonably safe, as regulated and amended ­occasionally by the law?...”

In a series of tests using a Toyota Quantum 14-seater ­Tourer and a Toyota Quantum Ses’fikile – both popular taxis in the country – Roberts found that in both ­instances the ­vehicles exceeded their gross ­vehicle mass and tyre load limits once loaded with “average South African commuters”.

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