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Durban - A task team comprising road and engineering experts and police has been given a one-week deadline to come up with recommendations on how to improve safety on Field’s Hill in Pinetown where a runaway truck killed 22 people last week.
Transport spokesman Kwanele Ncalane said Transport MEC Willies Mchunu had already formed the task team, but would fine-tune the details of its task this week.
Ncalane said the task team would, at the end of its investigation, recommend to the department better ways of dealing with traffic safety on the M13.
On Sunday night, 15 people were still in hospital and eight bodies were still unidentified in the Pinetown mortuary.
Ncalane said the province was committed to assisting bereaved families with funeral arrangements and expenses.
The 18-wheeler truck is believed to have lost its brakes coming down Field’s Hill and it crashed into fully loaded taxis and cars on Old Main Road as it veered on to an offramp.
Ncalane said the department had already restricted trucks from using the M13 during peak hours.
“The accident happened at about 6pm and we want to know what that truck was doing there,” he said.
It has been widely reported that some trucks, travelling between Johannesburg and Durban, used the M13 to avoid paying toll fees at the Mariannhill plaza.
Ncalane said it was possible to ban trucks from using the M13.
On Sunday a traffic officer who was at the accident scene told The Mercury trucks were normally allowed to use the M13 and were only forced back on to the N3 if there was congestion or an accident.
At the top of Field’s Hill three trucks were parked on the side of the road with traffic officers talking to their drivers.
“We are stopping trucks to warn the drivers to take care approaching the bends,” said the officer.
Ncalane said the department’s long-term plan to reduce road accidents on the N3 was to enforce its policy discouraging the transport of heavy goods by road.
“Our policy is to reintroduce transport by rail. But how to enforce that is still under discussion at national level.
“Prasa (Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa) is also revising its rail infrastructure to accommodate the transport of goods by rail.”
He condemned the DA for calling for Mchunu’s resignation following the accident and the bus accident that killed 10 Reed Dance participants in Zululand last week.
“It is inhuman to start pointing fingers. We should all be mourning,” Ncalane said.
DA Kloof ward councillor Rick Crouch said that Mchunu was reacting only after an accident had happened.
The deputy speaker for the KwaZulu-Natal legislature, Mtholephi Mthimkhulu, said the DA was trying to score political points at the expense of bereaved families.
However, African Christian Democratic Party MPL Jo-Ann Downs supported the DA’s call.
“The ANC will never remove him (Mchunu) because it always protects its own. The M13 is not suitable for trucks because it does not even have an arrestor bed.
“There are so many other roads, like Spaghetti Junction (EB Cloete Interchange), where horrific accidents are waiting to happen as truck drivers always disregard law and there is no enforcement,” she said.
Police spokesman Thulani Zwane said the 23-year-old truck driver would appear in the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court on Monday.
“At this stage we cannot speculate on whether the owner will be charged along with the driver as it all forms part of the police investigation. The truck has been impounded by police,” said Zwane.