The N3 hell run

2019-07-08 10:30
N3 traffic was backed up all the way to Umlaas Road off-ramp after the freeway was closed yesterday.

N3 traffic was backed up all the way to Umlaas Road off-ramp after the freeway was closed yesterday. (Jonathan Burton)

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I don’t often travel the N3 in the direction of Durban. My job keeps me more desk-bound nowadays and leisure time seems to nudge us rather towards the Midlands, the Berg and Gauteng than the coastal belt.

I’ve often remarked that I’d rather drive to Joburg than to Durban, and I still maintain that. It’s a hell run I avoid where possible and I feel for all those who are forced to do it often.

But recently I had reason to make the trip a few times, and was frankly pretty annoyed at the scenes that played out in the traffic on the highway.

My first observation was that the road during the day is clogged to the point that at times it feels claustrophobic. It is busy, busy, busy even though, when I travelled, I made sure I didn’t travel at rush hour. I somehow hadn’t realised quite how much traffic volumes, especially the trucks, have swelled on that stretch of highway in recent years. I now completely understand why the SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) says it needs to add extra lanes to the highway.

The second thing that hit me was the amount of dreadful driving I saw.

Let’s start with the cars. There are two types of bad drivers immediately visible — those in big, powerful, new luxury cars and those in little, cheaper cars. Those between seem to act their age, obey the rules of the road and have their egos firmly in check.

The luxury cars have the power to accelerate and cut you off, or sit on your tail making it clear that although there is a speed limit, they’re certainly not beholden to it. Anyway, they can easily afford a fine should they be unlucky enough to get one. They also make it clear that they believe your presence while you’re overtaking slower cars in the fast lane (at the speed limit) is primarily to annoy them. They will doggedly chase you, sometimes even flashing their lights, until you get a gap to move over and they can pass you like greased lightning. “Look how fast my car can go, you slowcoach,” they seem to pout as they pass. They slow down later, but their speed was to make a point, you see.

They’re the impatient ones. They’re confident in their luxury, usually older and let’s face it, their cars may be pretty, but it doesn’t mean they are.

Also, because you’re rich and I’m not, doesn’t mean I’ll quake in my boots if I see you approach in my rear-view mirror. Your wealth gives you no dominance over me and my dear old ride. I pay my tolls and taxes, same as you.

The little cheaper car drivers are younger and have far more to prove. They assert their place in the traffic stream by weaving in and out, like flies on a hot day, buzzing all over the road. They must be in front. All the time.

This way, that way, they’re everywhere, engines screaming in their quest to be the main man. Until the hill ...

That’s when the rest of us have the horsepower to overtake them as they glower at us cruising up, up and away. But as soon as we’re back on the flat stretches or the downhills, they’re there, back at our boots, the ankle biters of the N3. But, the worst of all are the truckers. Yes, we’ve been worried about them in light of the truck attacks, and the dangers they face in that regard, but their behaviour on the road is largely downright despicable.

They speed and overtake dangerously. They just don’t seem to care how they drive. They have no consideration. They don’t indicate. The sheer size of their vehicles makes them king of the road. If the small cars are the ankle biters, the luxury cars the snooty elite fleet, then the trucks are the bullies.

Going up Key Ridge, in a few places there were trucks three abreast. This meant that people in cars had to come to a dead stop in places on the steep climb to accommodate the narrowing of four lanes of car traffic into just one. It’s just nuts — and very dangerous too.

Is it time for dedicated truck lanes running the length of the highway? Would it make any difference? On Town Hill trucks still weave in and out of their lane with wild abandon, paying no heed to the solid lines which are meant to prevent them from doing so.

Please could truck owners ensure their drivers behave? Can they make sure they’re well rested, given good time to get to their destinations and not prone to great risk taking?

There’s technology now to monitor drivers’ behaviour and if it’s installed in trucks, and employers make sure there’s accountability for speeding and reckless driving, maybe the hell run that is the N3 drive from PMB to Durbs will calm down. Here’s hoping it does before I have to drive it again.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  opinion and analysis
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