Put the brakes on dangerous driving

Phumla WilliamsAs we enter December, most people begin to think ahead to their summer holidays.  The festive season is a time for relaxing, unwinding and taking a well-earned break.

This is also a time for visiting family, friends and loved ones. This month thousands of people will take to our roads, many of them travelling long distances.

Tragically, the festive cheer is often dampened by news of terrible vehicle crashes and fatalities on our roads.  The recent spate of fatal accidents is a cause for concern. On 22 November 14 people died when a minibus taxi crashed into a stationary truck near eMkhomazi, KwaZulu-Natal. On the same day 11 people died and 47 were injured when a bus and a vehicle collided on the N1, near Makhado, Limpopo. These horrific incidents were preceded by a fatal crash on the Moloto road in Mpumalanga that claimed 29 lives.

Reacting to the Makhado accident, President Jacob Zuma said: “We urge law enforcement authorities to play their role in promoting road safety through visible enforcement, but more important, we urge road users, especially drivers, to take extra care and exercise utmost vigilance on the road... We cannot continue losing people in this manner.”

The Road and Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) has since confirmed that these collisions were caused by human error. "We are saddened and concerned that these accidents are as a result of driver error. We are concerned when we find that it is a human element that caused the accidents and that will only come right if the humans change their attitudes to driving,"  acting chief executive Gilberto Martins said.

The RTMC Festive Season Road Safety Report for December 1, 2011 to 10 January 10 last year showed the most common causes of crashes as being:

  • Speeds too high for conditions, especially, during bad weather and at night.
  • Dangerous, reckless or inconsiderate driving, particularly barrier line infringements.
  • Alcohol abuse by drivers and pedestrians.
  • Fatigue, especially among public passenger drivers.
  • Vehicle fitness, particularly tyre failure and defective brakes.
  • Pedestrian negligence (jay walking, walking on freeways, not visible at night and walking on roads while intoxicated).

These sobering statistics should serve as a wake-up call.  We need to reflect on our behaviour as responsible citizens; it is time to stop the carnage that claims countless lives.

Although the government is committed to ending the carnage, road safety is everybody’s responsibility.  Too often road fatalities are caused by reckless driver behaviour, or unroadworthy vehicles.  It is you, the road user, who can spearhead a change in behaviour by doing the right thing: make sure that your vehicle is roadworthy, buckle up, take regular breaks and do not drive when drunk.

On 17 November the Department of Transport launched its Festive Season Campaign Arrive Alive- in the Free State.  The campaign focuses on visible policing to reduce fatalities on our roads.  It is an integrated campaign that combines the expertise of the RTMC, the National Traffic Police and others.  

 History showed that for about six weeks there will be a steady increase in traffic volumes along major arterial routes. The increased traffic volumes coincide with the end of year school holidays, the closure of most industries, the Christmas and New Year long weekends and the start of a new academic year.

The government is therefore introduced several interventions over this period. The old adage about prevention being better than cure is our starting point.  Over the next six weeks authorities will introduce road user out-reach initiatives.

This will involve “Rest-Stops” at a number of identified locations along the main roads. Public transport vehicles (buses and taxis) will be subjected to compulsory stops, giving law enforcement officials a chance to interact with drivers to assess their fitness and vehicle roadworthiness. Road safety teachers will interact with the passengers. The teachers will also be deployed at toll gates to distribute material and speak to motorists about road safety.

The campaign will be reinforced by increased traffic law enforcement operations, coupled with higher visibility. Officials will conduct regular and targeted roadblocks over this period. They will specifically target drunken driving and check the roadworthiness of vehicles. There will be operations at black spots for pedestrian, who account for a large number of road death. Officers will also enforce common driving violations such as cell phone use, any dangerous, reckless and negligent driving, and failure to use front and rear seatbelts.

We are convinced that if we all play our part by obeying the rules of the road and drive carefully we can make this festive season safer for all.

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

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