Off the rails

2009-10-22 00:00

AS a former traffic chief and, in particular, head of the Traffic Police Branch of Pietermaritzburg, I can no longer remain silent about the deterioration in the local traffic department, evidenced­ not only on the ground but also from the numerous bad reports that have been published in The Witness and other news­papers recently. I owe it to the memory of former solid, hard-working and professional traffic chiefs of the department of the calibre­ of Geoff Pascoe, the late Alain Portelli­, Tom Gibbons, Doug Upfold­, Alick McGibbon and Charles Halle to express my sadness, outrage and disgust at the level to which the once highly efficient and respected department and its officials have sunk.

For a department of the municipality that once enjoyed the pride of the city, the current position is far removed. What we have now is a city plagued with the highest population of drunken motorists; reckless and inconsiderate drivers; numerous pedestrians (mostly children) being killed by out-of-control vehicles driven by unlicensed and inexperienced people; chaos on busy and severely congested roads, with no pointsmen detailed to ease the traffic flow; little­ or no proper and beneficial enforcement; and mostly invisible traffic personnel, except when abnormal­ loads or high-ranking officials are escorted through the city or when they are observed shopping in uniform.

What has happened to the attitude, character and conduct of the men and women who committed themselves to the work of ensuring the safe, free flow of traffic and the reduction of road accidents wherever humanly possible?

What has happened to the city councillors and administrators who once took swift action to rocket any person out of the department who brought shame on the city and the image of its traffic officials­?

It has become an extremely sad occasion and very discouraging for me as one of South Africa’s most highly decorated and respected traffic officials to witness and read about the behaviour of traffic officials in and around Pieter­maritzburg. Officers show no personal pride in their uniforms and appearance, no interest in the safety of road users, no commitment to hard work while on duty, and no dedication to the principles and purposes for which a traffic police department exists. Instead motorists and citizens are faced with thugs brandishing firearms, and officials who strike or go on go-slow actions, refuse to work at critical times, drive like cowboys and are a discredit to the profession and themselves.

While there are many traffic offi­cials of good report who conduct themselves with integrity, courtesy and respect for the people, the constitution and the law, and do make a difference, there are equally many who should never have been accepted for traffic pol­ice work.

While this is the current situation, I believe that it can be turned around by putting the right people at the helm — people who are qualified, properly trained, experienced and mature in conduct — overseen by competent and pro-active municipal management.

We ratepayers and residents of the capital of KwaZulu-Natal would once again like to see:

• visible uniformed traffic personnel present and active all over the city;

• traffic wardens back in the central business area taking firm action­ against illegal parking and obstructions in the city centre, and reserve traffic wardens to assist­ at peak times and during major sports events;

• mounted motorcycle traffic officers to enable a traffic officer to get through the congested traffic and help get it flowing again;

• traffic officers and traffic wardens performing point duty at traffic lights that are defective and at congested locations;

• no traffic police vehicles in the parking areas of the Midlands Mall and other shopping centres when city roads are gridlocked;

• no uniformed traffic officials doing their shopping on municipal and ratepayers’ time and at our expense;

• highly visible traffic patrols on the N3 around Pietermaritzburg, not only when the national road is buzzing with holiday makers heading for the coast, but at all other times;

• weekly intensive enforcement campaigns in the city and suburbs for drivers under the influence of alcohol by the local traffic authority, not just by the provincial road traffic inspectorate;

• the conducting of regular planned and impromptu checkpoints and roadblocks to identify road criminals and check vehicle roadworthiness and vehicle and driver licences;

• the removal of all traffic officers from activities for which they are not employed, such as VIP protection of the mayor or councillors, or serving summonses;

• a reinstatement of the horse patrol­ units that carried out patrols­ and enforcement in the suburbs and forests surrounding the city;

• traffic officials visiting schools, colleges and the university to educate and promote road safety awareness among learners; and

• properly trained, courteous traffic officials.

Perhaps then we might see more praise rather than complaints and criticism about traffic officers and their conduct, and a city with free-flowing, accident-free traffic.

• James Mills is a past deputy chief traffic officer of Pietermaritzburg and deputy director of the Operations Division of Durban City Police writing in his personal capacity.

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