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A PROVINCIAL task team investigating safety improvements on the M13 near Fields Hill would explore the possibility of restricting heavy-duty trucks from using the road, Transport MEC Willies Mchunu said on Monday.
The task team, established in conjunction with the national government, was set up after 22 people died after an out-of-control truck smashed into four taxis and several cars last Thursday.
Mchunu said he welcomed the decision by the National Prosecuting Authority to charge the driver of the truck with murder instead of culpable homicide.
“This sets the bar high for any motorist who kills people on the road. People should respect the rule of law or suffer the consequences,” Mchunu said.
The task team has been given until the end of the week to come up with concrete measures to improve safety on Fields Hill.
Mchunu will brief the provincial cabinet and legislature on Wednesday on the measures the KwaZulu-Natal government plans to implement to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring.
But the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport refused to comment on a Daily News exposé on Monday which showed how the department rejected a Fields Hill task team report – compiled by its own senior staff members – that called for a ban on heavy-duty trucks on that part of the M13.
The report, submitted to Mchunu in December 2011, urged the MEC to use his authority to enforce a section of the KZN Provincial Road Act that allows restricted usage of a road to specific categories of vehicles.
According to a March 2012 reply to the task team, the recommendations were rejected by the KZN department’s senior manager in engineering services, in part because it would come at a cost to large retailers in the area and affect the price of food.
Spokesperson for the transport department, Kwanele Ncalane, did not want to comment on the report, or whether the task team would refer to it.
“I am not going to comment on an internal departmental report that you got from sources. It is unethical for me to do that,” Ncalane said.
“Let’s wait for Wednesday when the MEC will be taking the matter to the legislature where he will be able to expand to the media and the public what measures are being taken to try and address some of these issues.”
The 2011 report stated that trucks should use the “purpose built” N3 toll road as it reduced the risk of accidents because of its superior alignment, gradients and sight distances compared to Fields Hill, which had sharp bends and poor visibility.
The report urged that the speed limit be reduced from 80km/h to 60km/h.
DA MP, Radley Keys, said his party had for years consistently raised the danger of Fields Hill being used by heavy vehicles.
“For at least four years councillors Rick Crouch, Warwick Chapman and Tim Brauteseth, along with the Durban Chamber of Commerce, have campaigned to completely remove heavy-duty trucks from Fields Hill and force them on to the N3 toll road,” Keys said.
“We have also sent expert traffic studies, numerous different proposals and letters to the MEC regarding this issue. We have never received any feedback.”
“The MEC should be responsive to the needs and demands of road users in KwaZulu-Natal. He should not ignore them. It is time that he listened to what is being said,” Keys said.
However, Mchunu yesterday slammed the DA for “political point scoring” at a time when the country should be mourning the loss of so many lives.
On Monday relatives of the deceased met provincial government officials who, with the Road Accident Fund, would help them with funeral arrangements and other related matters, Ncalane said.
Meanwhile, an online public petition at www.avaaz.org, calling for a ban on large trucks on the M13, had been signed by more than 5 800 people by the time of publication. - Daily News