Heeding the voice of reason

Phumla WilliamsYou are awoken from a deep slumber by the sound of persistent knocking on your door. As you gingerly rise, you are immediately hit by a piercing headache emanating from the centre of your forehead.

The excruciating pain overwhelms you and then you are struck by a feeling of sickness in your stomach.

The knocking at the door gets louder. Still in a daze you reach for your mobile phone on the night stand next to your bed to see what time it is. You are greeted by the message icon; you click on the sms and see that it’s a notification from your bank. You look hard at the message on screen unable to believe what you are seeing: the notification shows that thousands of rands have been withdrawn from your account.

Flashbacks from the night before begin to play in your mind; you recall the bar you visited, the drinking, the partying, and handing your credit card to a barman. But as hard as you try, you cannot remember driving home.

Then it hits you: “How did I get home and where is my car?” Panic begins to overwhelm you, the knocking at the door is at fever pitch and then you hear the words that will haunt you forever: “Police! Open up!”

A metallic taste begins to flood your mouth, everything around you is seemingly moving at glacial pace. You approach the door; the voices seem to be coming from far away, but the incessant knocking will not stop. Opening the door you are greeted by two officers in uniform. Looking past them your gaze catches the outline of your car. Your blood runs cold as you notice the broken windscreen and extensive damage to the front of the bonnet.

You look at the faces of the two police officers hoping it’s all just a bad dream. But any such thoughts are brutally cast aside when one of the officers says: “We are taking you in for questioning for a hit and run.”

This may seem like a scene out of a bad B-grade film but it can so easily be the cold, hard reality. The festive season is a time for friends and family and for celebration. But it is also a time when we sometimes indulge and often make unwise judgement calls that can have lasting repercussions.

Annually, the December holiday season is marked by an increase in personal expenditure, road accidents, crime, drownings, injuries and deaths. This holiday period is generally also one of the busiest periods for emergency and law enforcement agencies.

The Department of Transport launched its National Festive Season Road Safety campaign on November 22. Road traffic law enforcement officers and officials will step up road safety operations during the 2012 festive season in order to reduce fatalities on South African roads.

On October 22, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa launched the Festive Season Crime Fighting Campaign and called it Operation Duty Calls. The operation will run until the end of January next year and its main objective is to call upon all South Africans to partner with the police in fighting crime. This year’s operations will also see an increase in high-visibility patrols at all tourist destinations, especially along our coastal cities.

Most holiday incidents can be avoided by South Africans – government calls on all citizens to act responsibly and take care of themselves and their families over the summer holiday.

Let us together take simple steps and precautions to ensure a safer holiday period for all.

Starting from when you embark on your holiday or travel to your holiday destination, always ensure that your vehicle is roadworthy. Drivers should at all times obey the rules of the road and keep to the speed limit. All front seat occupants in a vehicle should wear a seat belt. Adults must place younger passengers in child seats and insist that everyone buckles up. If you are intoxicated, you should not drive a vehicle but seek alternative transport methods.

These are all things we do as a matter of course in our daily lives, but often when the holiday season comes along, such prudent behaviour goes out the window.

Many families with young children will be going away over this period and attractions with water parks or open water will be visited by thousands over the next month. Be careful around water sources, especially if you cannot swim. River and ocean currents are often much stronger than they appear and can easily cause drowning. The use of alcohol also affects judgement, so avoid swimming if you are intoxicated.

Once again, this all seems so obvious, but is it really? A momentary lapse of judgement can happen in an instant. As the saying goes: forewarned is forearmed.

It is not just the roads and the environment that can potentially be hazardous at this time. It is also our human nature to overspend.Every single one of us can relate to spending too much over the festive period and then worrying about our financial situation in January.

It pays to take a few simple precautions to ensure that your holiday spending does not result in a financial strain in 2013. Before spending money on festivities, families should ensure that their living expenses are provided for.

By paying close attention to the little things like looking out for our loved ones and others on the roads, and wherever we may go this holiday season, we can all contribute to a safer and happy holiday for all.

Government wishes every South African a wonderful and safe holiday period, enjoy this time with friends and family and always be safe.

Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS)

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