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Who or what’s to blame for this week’s horrific accident in Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal, which claimed 22 lives and left many others in ruin: the driver of the runaway truck, the vehicle, the road or the authorities?
Video footage of the incident aired on television shows the speeding 18-wheeler truck obliterating a car and four taxis at the intersection of Field’s Hill (M13) and Richmond roads on Thursday evening.
The M13 was closed overnight and reopened yesterday. Two bouquets of flowers were placed at the intersection.
The driver, 23, from Swaziland has been arrested and faces charges ranging from culpable homicide to reckless and negligent driving.
But Transport Minister Dipuo Peters has suggested that he should be charged not with culpable homicide but with murder.
Peters said that apart from punishing drivers, it was necessary to punish the owners of trucks involved in such accidents.
Traffic officials said it appeared the brakes on the truck had failed.
An official of the KwaZulu-Natal Road Traffic Inspectorate said the licence of the truck had expired on August 31. Owners of heavy duty vehicles do not have a grace period for expired licences.
He was speaking to Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe at the site of the accident. Radebe later visited some survivors in hospital.
Radebe said: “Our message from government is that we should leave no stone unturned in ensuring those who are guilty of causing such pain must be dealt with, with the full might of the law.”
He urged the judiciary to impose harsh jail terms on traffic offenders instead of a “slap on the wrist”.
But many feel the accident is the result of trucks using the M13 rather than the N3.
KwaZulu-Natal transport MEC Willies Mchunu said truck drivers heading to Durban often attempted to avoid paying toll road fees to “save the money for themselves”.
But, he said, he could not ban them from using a public road.
Kloof councillor Rick Crouch said he and residents had known that Thursday’s accident “would happen” and had warned of it.
“Those deaths are the responsibility of MEC Mchunu and his department for their failure to act on this very serious issue,” he said. He and his fellow councillors had been fighting for years to have heavy vehicles banned from Field’s Hill.
“No matter what the cause of this accident turns out to be, ultimately it is the fault of the MEC and his Department of Transport because it is our assertion that the truck should not have been allowed to be there,” he said, calling for an immediate ban and removal of trucks to the N3.
Pinetown councillor Tim Brauteseth said the MEC for transport in the Western Cape had reclassified certain roads in that province to restrict the use of heavy vehicles, and KZN should do the same.
“Yes, the vehicle may have been unroadworthy and driver error may be to blame, but the fact remains, if the MEC had listened and acted, that vehicle would not have been on Fields Hill at all,” said Brauteseth.
He suggested the toll plaza should be moved so that trucks could not get off onto the M13 to avoid paying the toll fees.
While petitions have been going around for several years to ban trucks, yesterday people were urging each other to sign a new petition to ban trucks on Field’s Hill.
One site, www.avaaz.org reached almost 2 000 signatures yesterday.
Speaker of the KZN Legislature Peggy Nkonyeni expressed sadness at the loss of life and said the Department of Transport must intensify efforts in combating an escalation of road accidents in KZN.
The DA urged a ban on heavy vehicles using Field’s Hill.
“The ongoing use of Field’s Hill as a route for heavy vehicles travelling to and from Durban has been a concern for many years,” DA MPL Radley Keys said.
The IFP called on Peters and Mchunu to seek solutions to road accident problems in KZN.
Cosatu said the interchange (M13 and Richmond) should have been avoided.
“We believe that it’s no accident, but human error or negligence,” because drivers “undermine all the provincial Transport Department’s efforts to end road carnage and reduce them into a department of mass funerals”.
Provincial legislature transport portfolio committee chairman Mxolisi Kaunda said road accidents had “engulfed” the province.
“The portfolio committee is condemning all the vehicles that are not roadworthy on our roads,” he said.
“It further appeals to the KZN Department of Transport to conduct a thorough investigation on the cause of the accident.”
Kaunda said the committee wanted to see justice take place, and harsh sentences imposed on motorists found guilty of road offences. - Pretoria News