It’s almost March, which means your festive season eating sins should be well behind you, even if all those bleedin’ soap-on-a-rope unwanted gifts from that one relative who still hasn’t gotten the hint aren’t.
If that’s your only remaining pain from the festive season though, you are lucky. For far too many South Africans, the festive season is a period of loss and mourning as more and more people are senselessly killed on our roads.
Events like the recent street racing scandal on the N1 in Cape Town have made it easy for media and the authorities to tar all petrolheads with the same brush. The powers that be are always looking for ways to introduce stricter new laws and enforcements and high-profile incidents simply provide fuel to their fire.
The reality is that most petrolheads aren’t reckless fools doing 200km/h+ on public roads. Unfortunately, there is a much deeper underlying issue that will be significantly harder to remedy.
I had the privilege of growing up and starting to drive in the UK during my late teens. The police in the UK command tremendous respect from all motorists and it shows in the way they drive. Lane discipline is second to none and whilst speed limits are frequently exceeded, this is not done in a dangerous way.
Drunk driving? Completely taboo and simply doesn’t happen.
In contrast, South Africa’s lane discipline is non-existent, speed limits are frequently exceeded by huge margins in areas where things can really go wrong and drunk driving is practically a competitive sport!
Is this a result of a breakdown in the relationship between law enforcement and road users? Let’s examine some key differences in approach between South Africa and the UK.
Although there is now talk of the UK introducing long-range cameras, the general approach has been to cover the speed cameras in light-reflecting materials that can practically be seen from space. The overall goal is to slow road users down, not to send them a speeding fine and put money in the bank. UK police visibility is focused on dealing with suspicious vehicles and those of questionable mechanical condition.
In contrast, South African “speed cops” are famous for contortionist manoeuvres behind bushes and under trees. Other tricks include sudden changes in the speed limit for no apparent reason, followed by a nicely concealed permanent camera. Taxis will do death-defying stunts that could be the highlight of a high-adrenaline Red Bull event right in front of the cops and nothing will happen.
Photography seems to be the most important skill for the average traffic cop in South Africa.
Our driving culture needs to change completely and that can only start with effective and intelligent law enforcement. Instead of using road blocks and hidden speed cameras at the bottom of hills in deserted areas, focus on targeting the REAL problems that genuinely cost us lives every day on the roads. Dealing with drunk driving, excessive speeding in built-up areas, unroadworthy vehicles everywhere and of course taxis driving on the wrong side of the road would be a great place to start.
When the police genuinely offer a service to motorists, things will change. Until then, good luck out there – it’s a jungle that seems to be focused on targeting your wallet rather than protecting your life.