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Opinion piece by media and communications specialist Onkgopotse JJ Tabane:
Dear Minister Ben Martins, let’s talk frankly. You have called for a national dialogue on the road carnage that has claimed more than 1300 lives since the start of the festive season.
You do realise that the Arrive Alive campaign has failed, with so many people not making it to their destinations since its launch. So clearly, another campaign is not going to help us, whatever we named it. 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 driving licences and fake roadworthy certificates, we can forget about ever stemming the tide that is in part exacerbated by the many cars that are on the roads illegally and drivers who have no clue what they are doing. The ingrained culture of bribery has taken root to such a degree 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.
Take action against the big boys
Bus companies that have maimed people continue to operate with impunity. Until there is a sense that they might lose their business if they continue to put their coffin-like busses on the road we will only remain in tears. I can’t understand why you have not had the courage to cancel just one licence after the numerous tragedies that were traceable to simple negligence of the bus companies that conducted little or poor maintenance on their fleets. On another sore note – a taxi is involved in every second accident these days. Until you pluck up the courage to have a special unit dedicated to the crackdown on unroadworthy taxis, we will all have to resign ourselves to near-death experiences. I am talking about those who have the misfortune of having to use taxis as a mode of transport.
Abolish drinking and driving altogether
The “allowable alcohol limit” issue is a farce. I am made to believe that something akin to such abolishment is on the cards if current draft legislation is anything to go by. 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 are any consequences for drinking and driving. If we communicate this new change in the usual lax manner, we can forget about introducing a new culture, and so the bodies will pile up. The envisaged banning of alcohol advertising should also kick in without delay – this might just go a long way in stopping to glamorise alcohol use.
Implement the demerits system
The fear of losing a driving licence due to traffic offences does not exist in the South African psyche. The postponement of the implementation of the demerit system is another sign 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 could remove rogue drivers from our roads, and what do we do? We set a date in the future. A future littered with more bodies.
Impound speedsters’ cars
Last year, several celebs were caught doing speeds that could win the grand prix. Among those caught were also some politicians (who were not supposed to be driving themselves in the first place). We have lost too many lives owing to speed. There is a culture of shrugging it off and life going on. On a positive note, we saw someone going 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 one politician can never lose his or her job over speeding or driving over someone in a built-up area, then we can’t hope for citizens to take threats of action seriously. I don’t know of anyone who has lost their cars for speeding; it’s always something to be laughed off.
Dear Minister, should we hold our breath for anyone to be made an example? I don’t think so.
Use gantries to prevent recklessness
While you are pondering what would become of the gantries should the tolls fail, surely cameras can be installed to track motorists driving recklessly. To wait to give a speedster a ticket later when they are potentially about to kill people seems quite pedestrian. Instead of police officers sitting at off-ramps, shouldn’t they be patrolling the highways and pulling over speedsters before they kill other road users?
The bottom line
Really, Minister, this sounds quite simple to me.
While at it, please bring back what was called the “pimpa hotline”. It’s time citizens reported speedsters as they see them. This might just get some speedsters off 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 a 100km/h speed limit and there should be dedicated officers to enforce 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 suggested the lowering of the general speed limit on the roads. It turned out it was a mere PR gimmick that was not followed up. I am not suggesting you follow it up if it will be for mere cheap publicity.
If these small suggestions are implemented and their consequences of loss of property and freedom are communicated, maybe a new consciousness can be achieved for all of us to take more responsibility to stop the mindless deaths on our roads.
Police must come out of the bushes 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 at those roadblocks where people will lose their cars if found with expired licence discs and fake licences.
The prevarication on these matters that could make a difference in stemming the tide is an affront to the families of those who have ended up dead on our roads.
Meanwhile, all the best as you stimulate more dialogue on this crucial issue.
You will agree with me, Mr Minister, that after all the talking, it’s your tough action that is likely to make a difference and save lives. -The Star