Opinionista Onkgopotse JJ Tabane 7 January 2013

Dear Minister Martins, let’s talk frankly…

A festive season death toll well in excess of 1,300 makes the call for “dialogue” by Minister of Transport Ben Martins, ring more than a little hollow. Only tough action and a long, hard look at our behaviour on the roads will staunch the flow of bodies South Africa’s morgues.  

Dear Minister Martins,

You have called for a national dialogue on the road carnage that has so far claimed more than 1,300 lives since the start of the festive season. You do realise that the Arrive Alive campaign has failed, with so many people failing to safely reach their destinations since its launch? So clearly yet another campaign, no matter what we call it, is not going to help us. In the face of so many deaths on our roads you have called for dialogue, so let us begin with a few suggestions from yours frankly:

Fire corrupt traffic officials. Until there is a real fear that police officials will lose their jobs if they hand out fake drivers’ licenses and fake roadworthy certificates we can forget about ever stemming the tide injury and fatality that is, in part, exacerbated by numerous cars that are on the roads illegally and drivers who have no clue what they are doing. The ingrained culture of bribery has so taken root that it has become part of life in South Africa. Until we get this out of the way, we will achieve very little. Has anyone been dismissed and shamed over corruption in this area of our lives? I am battling to remember anyone. I hope that you will change that.   

Take action against the big boys. Bus companies responsible for having maimed people (they know who they are) continue to operate with impunity. Until they fear losing their operating licenses, they will continue to put their coffin-like busses on the road. I can’t for the life of me understand why you have not had the courage to cancel just one license after the numerous tragedies that were traceable to the failure of bus companies to properly maintain their fleets. Another sore note is that a taxi is involved in every second accident these days. Until you pluck up the courage to establish a special unit dedicated to a crackdown on unroadworthy taxis, those who have the misfortune of having to use taxis as a mode of transport will all have to resign ourselves to risking our lives daily.    

Abolish drinking and driving. The “allowable alcohol limit” issue is a farce. Completely outlaw drinking and driving. If current draft legislation is anything to go by, it would appear that something akin to such an abolishment is in the cards. I hope you will have the courage to take this all the way. The trick will be in how it is communicated; many South Africans don’t think there is any consequence for drinking and driving. If we communicate this new change in the usual lax manner that we do other matters, we can forget about introducing a new culture and the number of our bodies in our mortuaries will continue to increase. The envisaged banning of alcohol advertising should also kick in without delay; this may just go a long way in stopping the glamorisation of alcohol use, especially among young people.  

Implement a demerit system. The fear of losing a drivers’ license due to traffic offences simply does not exist in the South African psyche. The serial postponement of the implementation of the demerit system is another demonstration that we don’t have a grip on what needs to be done to reduce the deaths on our roads. Here is one thing that would possibly remove rogue drivers from our roads and what do we do? We set a date in the future; a future littered with more dead bodies. 

Impound speedster cars. Last year a few celebs and a number of politicians were caught doing speeds that could win a grand prix. We have lost too many lives owing to speed. The culture is to shrug this off: life goes on. On a positive side we saw someone actually go to jail for drag racing. But clearly the message has not sunk in if the recent case of a seeming recurrence of this conduct is anything to go by. If a politician fails to be dismissed for speeding or going over someone in a built up area, then we can’t hope that citizens will take threats of action seriously. I don’t know of anyone who has ever lost their car for speeding, it’s always something to be laughed off as one of those threats that government will never implement. Dear Minister, should we hold our breath for anyone to be made an example? I didn’t think so.  

Use gantries to prevent recklessness. While you are pondering what will become of the gantries should the tolls actually fail, surely cameras can be installed to track cars that are driving recklessly. To wait to give a speedster a ticket later, when they are potentially about to kill people, seems quite pedestrian faced with so many body bags. Instead of police officials sitting statically at off-ramps shouldn’t they be patrolling the highways and pulling over speedsters before they kill other road users? Really Minister, this sounds quite simple to me. And while you’re at it, please bring back what was called the “mpimpa hotline”. It’s time citizens reported speedsters as they see them. This may just remove some speedsters from the road fast. All of us have to be more conscious of how we conduct ourselves on the roads and hold each other accountable. Buses and taxis need to be confined to 100km/h speed limit and officers must be dedicated to the task of enforcing this. It’s crazy that buses should be competing with private cars on how fast to get there when they are carrying so many lives on board. Your predecessor, faced with last year’s horrible stats, suggested lowering the general speed limit on the roads. It turns out it was a mere PR gimmick that was not followed up. Follow it up, but not for cheap publicity.  

If these small suggestions are implemented and the consequences of loss of property and freedom are communicated, then maybe, just maybe, a new consciousness can be achieved and all of us will learn to take more responsibility for stopping the terrible waste of lives on our roads. Police must come out of the bush and patrol the highways. The technology of speed detection installed on patrol vehicles surely should be the way to go rather than this archaic speed trapping behind bushes.

I hope we will be seeing you more in those roadblocks, where people will lose their cars if found with expired license discs and fake licenses. The prevarication on these matters that could make a difference in stemming the tide is an affront to the families for whom our roads have turned into morgues.

Meanwhile, all the best as you stimulate more dialogue on this crucial issue. You will agree with me, however, Minister that after all the talking, it’s your tough action that is likely to make a difference and save lives!   

Yours frankly, 

Onkgopotse JJ Tabane DM 


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