You can’t shock shocking drivers

2011-12-12 07:15

Chris Moerdyk

I suppose the traffic authorities in the Western Cape should be applauded for their decision to expose the public to graphic videos of horrendous traffic accidents because every little bit helps.

But, I am not convinced that it is going to help significantly in bringing down the country’s frightening number of road deaths.

Perhaps instead of these videos just being available online, they were run on the SABC and as public service messages, they might have a little more impact. I just can’t see the idiots who drive like animals on our roads going onto the internet to have a look.

So, who will go and have a look? Well, human nature being what it is, the voyeurs will want to see what it is all about. Those are the people who watch TV shows like Big Brother, The World’s Worst Disasters and only tune in to motor racing just to see the crashes.

And sure, there are a lot of them. So, why won’t these videos have any effect on their driving habits?

Bad things happen to "others"

Well, the psychology of human communication is such that people who see something happening to other people don’t really imagine the same thing happening to them. "Other" people get killed on the road; "other" people get caught and arrested for drunk driving; "other" people get HIV/Aids from unprotected sex; "other" people get lung cancer from smoking.

One only has to chat to friends and family to become aware of the fact that the only time something really sinks in about bad things happening to us is when bad things happen to us or someone very close to us.

Shock tactics have been tried all over the world and one of the most commonly quoted myths is that this worked really well in Australia. Actually what really worked in Australia was the fact that the police were very much on the ball and cracked down with an iron fist. What worked in Australia was that motorists knew that they actually weren’t going to be able to get away with anything.

Unlike South Africa where in spite of dire warnings about “Zero Tolerance” and the waving of big sticks, somehow only a few drivers actually get caught. The rest just carrying on breaking the law with such disdain that they convince themselves that they’re not actually breaking the law but rather just entitled to own the road.

Confiscate cars

Showing horror road crash videos is not going to stop that bus owner from trying to get away with one more trip in an unroadworthy vehicle; showing horror videos is not going to stop that idiot sending and SMS on his cellphone while driving at 180km/h on the N1; showing horror videos is certainly not going to stop taxis, blue light drivers and every other Tom, Dick and Thabo who feels he has the right not to be late for something and drives like a complete and utter lunatic.

So what will work?

In my opinion only one thing will cut road deaths. And that is for culprits’ cars to be confiscated.

Fines mean nothing to SA’s wealthy. They don’t mean anything to most other people either because they just don’t pay them. And as far as that demerit system is concerned – how can you take away driver’s licences when so many people in this country don’t have a driver’s licence to start with?

We need to do as they do in the USA and have video cameras on all our police cars that can show definitive proof of wrongdoing. And then take the culprit’s car away. We need to have a simple drinking and driving rule. No drinking and driving at all. Then we can bring back the breathalysers and if there is any hint of alcohol – you lose your car. And people who argue that they might be wrongly prosecuted because they took medicine with alcohol in it, well darn it all, read those package inserts “Do not drive or operate machinery after taking this medication”.  Alcohol in medicine is alcohol.

Shock tactic

Now of course, a lot of people will say that confiscating cars will probably be unconstitutional or illegal. Well, here’s news for you – try taking one crayfish out of the sea when it is below the minimum regulation size and your boat and car will be confiscated.

Dammit, if we can confiscate cars for taking the wrong size crayfish out of the sea surely we can do the same with someone who is behaving in a way that could actually kills people and not little crayfish.

That’s the only shock tactic that will work – the very thought of not having a car is beyond frightening for the average South African.

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  • Johan - 2011-12-12 09:03

    Let them clean the blood in amulances for a weekend or two and they will NEVER drive like that again!

      K0BUSL - 2011-12-13 12:45

      Goed gese Johan, I will identify the areas for them to work!!!!!

  • Thys - 2011-12-12 09:03

    He who would sacrifice liberty for safety deserves neither. You fail to adres the elephant in the room? The lack of driver training....

      wesleywt - 2011-12-12 10:56

      Oh please. You are an idiot not to know that driving 120kph in a 60 zone is dangerous. These people know what they are doing. They just don't care.

      Thys - 2011-12-12 16:47

      Even though you post with the typical bravado that the interwebz seems to bring forth in people, what you said is true. There are people who dont care... Driver training would increase the average skill level of the users of our roads, therefore they would be safer. PS: Its a common misconception that speed is the biggest factor in most fatal crashes, it is not. Google it.

      roger.verrall - 2011-12-12 17:01

      Driver training has always been the key to safer roads. U.K. realised this in about 1956 and worked on "driving pride" - slow process but it worked for many years. Don't know how things are now - been out of touch. Similar comments apply to Germany about the same time.

      Thys - 2011-12-12 17:04

      The system in Finland is awesome.

      wesleywt - 2011-12-12 17:53

      If your flawed argument was true, then there would be no F1 or Superbike crashes. These are the most trained and skilled drivers in the world. However, unlike real roads, race tracks have tire walls and gravel traps. When you drive recklessly and at high speeds on a normal road, the only thing that stops you is a tree, concrete wall or an innocent driver. People who think that speeding is okay are very short sighted especially if they believe everything google tells them. p.s why is my post typical bravado... Are you are speeder therefore an idiot?

      Thys - 2011-12-13 12:32

      If I misinterpreted the tone of your post I retract my statement and aplogise unconditionally. Back to the topic... On a racetrack the aim is to go as fast as possible and you push a vehicle to its limits. On a public road one aims to go as slow as necessary and you drive the vehicle well within its limits. I wonder how many drivers on our roads can correct even the most simple things like over or understeer? How many hours has the average driver spent on a skidpan practicing dynamic vehicle control? The answer is not many. Most drivers on our roads struggle with things like proper clutch control and braking... In reply to your question: No, im not a reckless speeder. I do not drive faster than the situation allows. Let me add that maintaining the speed limit can be reckless depending on the situation. You adapt your driving to your vehicle and to the situation, even if it means driving way below the speed limit. The reason for my annoyance with the article is that it perpetuates a unworkable, inefficient and unconstitutional solution that follows a narrow idealistic view and ignores a clear solution that is based on scientific evidence.

      MaxOdin.SA - 2011-12-17 01:17

      Firstly let me say that nobody is wrong in this thread. Let me also say that since my learners for my motorcycle (my pride and joy) has expired it's been sitting in my garage for months now for fear of confiscation even though I have a code 8. So guess what there is merit to the argument. The thing I most disagree with though is the F1 and superbike nonsense. those cars and bike are driven by super geniusses (genii) under heavilly stressfull conditions and supremely high speed in excess of 300kph sometimes around tight winding tracks and as a specator sport. One thing that I have learned from my wannabe boy racer days is that it costs big bucks to get a hatch to do in excess of 180kpm and that's without safety precautions so threat of confiscation would be a big deterrent. I had fantastic dreams of being the next Sarel Van Der Merwe but hey finances didn't allow. Here's the rub though, there is an altogether different driving technique when racing compared to public driving and having only learned what I know now after having rolled a BMW at 80kph in the rain I can confidently say that driver training is essential. If I had it then I wouldn't have rolled. I believe that should a person buy a rear wheel drive vehicle skid pan training should be a prerequisite for licensing. Ps: I have never raced on the streets and never will. It's reckless and foolhardy.

  • Stephanus - 2011-12-12 10:09

    I remember when I was doing work on a platinum mine, they had pictures up on billboards of accidents in the workplace at the training center. Maybe those did have some influence on safety? Perhaps we can also learn from the mining industry. Safety on South African mines have increased tremendously, mostly due to the fact that they really cultivated a safety mindset. So let's apply that same strategies to our drivers when they go for their license, such as compulsory yearly courses on driving safety etc. Just a thought though.

  • JudithNkwe - 2011-12-12 10:11

    Agree Chris - visible traffic policing to crack down hard on driving offences. Special courts for vehicle related offences to ensure justice is meted out swiftly

  • flysouth - 2011-12-12 14:01

    Chris I have to disagree! Except that you solution may in fact be the solution when faced, as in SA, with a vast horde of the terminally dimwitted, ignorant and apparently lacking in fine motor skills and a fundamental understanding of the physics of motion - that is the bulk of drivers on the roads! 45 years ago, as a true 'petrolhead' and owner of a fast sports car (and of course certainly as fast and as good a driver as Fangio!) I attended a motoring club function where they showed US-made video of the real effects on the human body of auto accidents. To this day I can recall that video, it was truly horrific and shocking and gruesomly detailed. It brought home to me, and most of the audience in the club-hired cinema of several hundred people just what can happen to you in a motor accident (we're talking limbs torn off and worse!) and that has stayed with me to this day - I am happy to say that any 'accidents' I have had since then have been low-speed fender-benders caused by others driving into me, and I still often drive fast when conditions allow. The other important thing that drivers need education in is what all pilots of aircraft learn - there are no such things as accidents and in fact the vast majority of 'accidents' in aviation, unless a wing simply falls of (even such an extraordinary happening would be no 'accident' BTW) are in fact 'pilot error' and often the result of a causal chain of preceeding incidents and/or omissions - the 'snowball' effect.

  • Deon - 2011-12-12 15:02

    I would rather go with the point system and if you mess up too much, you lose your licence.

  • Len - 2011-12-12 15:19

    Taking someone's car away is silly and idiotic. Most of the drivers on the roads do not own the vehicles they drive e.g. bus drivers, taxi drivers and truck drivers. Taking someone else's car for a crime committed by someone is brain dead. The real issue is enforcement by the police, with no chances of a bribe. I agree with the mounted cameras to prevent corrupt practises by both the motorist and police. The biggest problem on our roads is that the police are not visible. When they are visible, they could not be bothered and do not even seem to notice cars around them with no plates. Most of our cops sit behind bushes or under flyovers and their job is to trap motorists driving at 11km/h more than the speed limiit. They cannot care for the unroadworthy vehicles, the people talking on the cellphone, the children not in their proper sit, the bold tyres. In essence, when you are hiding, you barely notice anything except the speed of the cars. Many a cop see this as their only duty. There are cops who sit at the corner of Silverpine and Hans Schoeman in Malanshof in Randburg, and yet down the road there is often traffic congenstion and problems which they could not care. I suggest motorists would respect the police more if they were visible, consistent and focussed on all offences, rather than speeding. Taxi drivers in hat spot are often a law unto themselves

  • Tony - 2011-12-12 16:25

    I watched the videos and think they would be a great tool in driver education. Why not make it compulsory for new drivers to have a training session where these videos are shown and clearly explained to the trainees, with explanation as to the cause and then video interviews with the drivers and victims. That will surely have an impact.

  • visko.vandermerwe - 2011-12-13 23:28

    In Australia we have "Hoons". What we see on TV here is how their cars are crushed. The other day they did a Ferrari. I must tell you, driving in Australia is a safe experience. Driving in SA is sheer hell. A bit like driving in Nigeria..I understand.

  • irritirritated - 2011-12-14 15:55


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