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Just another horror crash. It barely lasted a day on the front page when 18 people died last Saturday after a midi-bus taxi pulling a trailer hit a school bus head on at 6am somewhere along the R61 between Cradock and Graaff-Reinet – but this one has stuck with me ever since.
Maybe it’s because I had been on that same staggeringly beautiful road exactly a week before when it was closed by a snow storm. Maybe because I’d spent the previous night in Cradock, a classic Karoo town if ever there was one, and that’s where the primary school bus was from.
Maybe it’s because that school bus was heading for a Saturday morning rugby match and it’s so easy for me to imagine an excited bunch of kids and coaches on their way to do wintry sporting battle against their rivals in Graaff-Reinet. Maybe it’s the image of the school principal, doubling as the bus driver, throwing a protective arm across a child before dying on impact.
Maybe it’s the brutally random fact that the child who died had, only moments before, moved to the front because he felt sick. Maybe it’s because the taxi was full of mourners on their way from Cape Town to a funeral in Ngcobo in the Transkei.
Maybe it’s the reports that Deputy Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga went straight to the scene from attending the funeral of 25 farmworkers who died in a road accident in Mpumalanga. What a grim way to spend a weekend.
Maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe it shouldn’t have happened.
The photos alone and the eyewitness accounts make it clear the taxi was on the wrong side of the road going over a blind rise. You don’t need three degrees in forensic science to realise that the driver, in pre-dawn darkness, had probably overtaken against the clear indication of the road markings. Surprised? I don’t think anyone would be.
On the several thousand kilometres of driving on that recent holiday way up through the Karoo to the northern Free State and back, I saw similar insanity happening countless times.
My general impression is that there are fewer drivers who are speeding on our roads these days – the 150km/h brigade seems to have been reined in – and there’s far less dangerous tail-gating than there used to be, but we have made little progress in terms of blind overtaking. It’s effectively Russian roulette as lives are gambled on whether there is another vehicle coming around the bend or over the hill at precisely the wrong moment.
Given the frequency of the offence, and the constant and lethal consequences of it, it surely verges on negligence by the traffic authorities that I have never, not once, seen pro-active policing to reduce it.
Has anyone ever seen a highly visible police vehicle parked on a notorious blind rise to either deter or to witness and charge offenders? Or, failing an official vehicle, simply a flashing blue light on a pole at the crest of the hill would slow a few madmen down, especially at night.
Have cameras ever been positioned in such places to capture the offence? What about barriers in the middle of the road rather than just lines? Or rough bumps in the surface on those lines? And don’t we need more roads over hills widened into double lanes?
We will never restrain every death-dicer from his lethal impatience but we can radically reduce the problem.
We owe it to those bodies crushed inside metal or scattered across the R61 to do so urgently.