Time to get serious about needless, preventable road deaths

23 December 2018 - 00:01 By Sunday Times

Driver training, behaviour and attitudes on the road could change drastically if the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) has its way.
Alarmed by the increasing number of deaths on our roads, the agency is proposing, among other things, that drivers be retested every five years. It also wants novice drivers to be placed under more supervision and for those driving public-transport vehicles to undergo additional competency tests.
On Friday, transport minister Blade Nzimande announced that 767 people had perished on our roads since the beginning of December. With Christmas two days from now and South Africans heading to holiday and other destinations in droves, that figure will, sadly, increase over the next two weeks.
The Arrive Alive campaign always kicks into gear this time of year with the same important message: Don't speed, wear a seatbelt at all times, ensure your vehicle is roadworthy, follow the rules of the road, don't overload, don't drink and drive.
This message is, unfortunately, falling on deaf ears. Poor driver training, driver neglect, recklessness and drinking and driving are the major causes of preventable deaths on our roads. One cannot blame the RTMC for insisting on radically overhauling the system. But though it is correct to lay most of the blame on driver behaviour, the agency must also take responsibility for its own failures.
Does it deploy enough traffic officers, especially on provincial and national roads, to cover known accident hot spots? It is common in this country to drive a distance of 600km to 1,000km without being stopped even once by a traffic officer. When they do appear, some of them are keen to accept bribes for ignoring traffic offences that should result in the offending motorist either getting fined, pulled off the road or arrested on the spot. Why is the road traffic agency not intensifying efforts to root out these bad apples in its employ?
Drinking and driving also seems to be on the rise, despite concerted efforts to stamp it out. As RTMC spokesperson Simon Zwane notes elsewhere in this paper, drinking is a favourite pastime of South Africans. We drink when we are happy, we drink when we are sad, we drink when there's no occasion. It is what we do after these drinking sessions that is more worrisome: most of us get behind the wheel of a car, putting not just ourselves but other motorists at extreme risk of harm.
So intent is it on curbing this scourge that the RTMC last month suggested locking up drunk drivers for seven days before they can apply for bail. Some argue that drinking and driving will remain an ongoing problem in a country without a reliable and safe public transport system.
But that's a dangerous assertion, given that there are now more options for those who prefer to go out and celebrate, without risking their lives by taking the wheel after indulging. Ride-hailing services cover most of our major cities. There are options such as nominating a sober driver among your drinking companions or using a take-me-home service. A major mindset change is required.
That is why we fully support efforts by the RTMC to radically overhaul how drivers are trained and tested in future. Obliging motorists to retake the driving test every five years will have a number of benefits. It will go a long way in rooting out those who obtained their driver's licences fraudulently, it will afford those who were never tested properly the opportunity to undergo legal driving tests, and serve as a refresher course for experienced motorists who have picked up bad habits.
Introducing additional testing for drivers of public-transport vehicles is another important intervention in the war on road deaths. It is unclear if Nzimande will support the proposals when they land on his desk, or if parliament will endorse them when it comes to amending the applicable legislation. But why wouldn't they? This country loses more than 1,000 people to road accidents during this period each year. It's time to get serious about this scourge...

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