As the number of festive season fatalities in road crashes approached the 800-mark, transport officials say they are on full alert as festivities peak with the ringing in of the New Year.
Transport Minister Blade Nzimande, who was at the Mariannhill Toll Plaza yesterday morning, said that law enforcement operations would be stepped up, and public safety campaigns upscaled, to combat the high rate of fatalities.
“Specific interventions will include the intensification of law enforcement operations on key travelling dates with a specific focus on speeding, drunken driving and the wearing of seatbelts. The activation of more halfway stations for the management of fatigue, targeted at long-distance public transport vehicles, will be implemented.
“Our cross-border operations will be strengthened to deal with the high incidence of cross-border minibuses and buses that are overloaded with both passengers and goods,” he said.
Passengers made up the highest number of fatalities, many of whom were children. “This highlights the importance of using safety belts and child restraints. Pedestrian fatalities had increased as well, followed by drivers,” said Nzimande.
With more than 356 roadblocks held throughout the country, Nzimande urged those who were planning to travel in the coming days to adhere to the rules of the road.
“Drive within the set speed limit, buckle up, avoid the use of cellphones while driving, use roadworthy vehicles, remain calm, take regular stops to avoid fatigue and don't drink and drive,” he said.
The causes of the fatalities included fatigue, reckless and negligent driving, speeding and motorists driving under the influence of alcohol.
Concerned by the increasing road fatality statistics, the IFP proposed that a national transport indaba be convened to “deal comprehensively with this as a national crisis”. The party also urged the introduction of legislative reforms and a study of international best practice.
IFP national spokesperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa said the licence testing of drivers needed to change.
The party suggested a number of measures, including reducing speed limits on all major roads, compulsory retesting for all licence renewals, revoking the licences of habitual offenders, increasing fines for all road transgressions, increasing the number of cameras on all major roads and year-round roadblocks and, controversially, the reduction of the blood alcohol content of all drivers to zero.
The party proposed special driving training for all taxi and bus drivers and the introduction of learner driving as a compulsory subject in high schools.
It also suggested special prosecution interventions for and a review of all minimum sentences for road- related offences.
eThekwini Metro police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Parboo Sewpersad added that the greater Durban area would be “saturated” with officers, who would enforce by-laws.
“There will be blue-light coverage in all areas of Durban. Our multi operations teams, public order policing and specialised units will be deployed across the city, especially during the peak periods. As we approach New Year's Day, we will be monitoring all party areas and, if need be, there will be intermittent lock-offs of some roads to maintain order,” he said.
So far, almost 400 people have been arrested for various offences in eThekwini.
KZN SAPS media spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Thulani Zwane said police officers would be on high alert as festivities reach peak celebrations. “Do not drink and drive. We will be checking vehicles. There could be some bad weather in the coming days, so drivers need to be alert,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Pietermaritzburg, Caro Smit, director of South Africans Against Drink Driving, lashed out at the traffic police in and around the city for not having rolled out the evidential breath alcohol testers in spite of having acquired the machines and having received training on how to use them.
She said they helped provide quick evidence of driving under the influence and would have a significant effect on the sentencing rate, which currently sat at a miserable 7% to 11% in KwaZulu-Natal.
“You cannot appeal to people to behave. They will only do so if the chances are high that they will be stopped and tested,” she said.
She also said she believed that the legalisation of dagga in households had contributed to the number of people driving while impaired.Independent on Saturday