Johannesburg - When noting the kamikaze tactics of some road users, I often wonder how I’d fix things if I was transport minister for a day. Not to suggest it will take just one day to change an ingrained culture of bad driving and ineffective enforcement, but there are things I’d install as a starting point.
For starters, I’d use speed traps as part of a holistic road safety strategy, not a replacement. Currently far too much effort is placed on measuring motorists’ velocity while a slew of other unsafe driving practices are largely ignored. It’s created the unhealthy perception that as long as motorists drive slowly, they can do little wrong.
This perception is being further fuelled by insurance company smartphone apps that reward motorists for driving and accelerating slowly, and for not being distracted by their phones, but fail to deter them from a raft of other driving misdeeds.
I have no problem with the good intentions behind these apps and they can have a role to play in saving lives, but there’s simply too much that they can’t measure - things that traffic officers can.
In addition to mobile speed traps and licence-checking roadblocks, I’d make traffic officers do a lot more policing of moving violations such as crossing solid white lines, changing lanes without indicating, tailgating, hogging the overtaking lane, driving in the emergency lane, shooting through red lights and stop streets, and all the other rogue behaviour that takes place even when the speed limit’s not being exceeded.
I’d also implement a system called the 15-minute time out, whereby drivers pulled off for bad driving would be required to hand their keys to the traffic officer and wait 15 minutes on the side of the road before being allowed to resume their journey. Considering that a lot of bad driving is fuelled by impatience, I think that interrupting someone’s journey and making them late would be a far more impactful deterrent than a traffic fine received in the post weeks after some long-forgotten speed infringement.
This time out would work particularly well on motorists who illegally overtake peak-hour traffic in the emergency lane (and no it’s not just minibus taxis) because they feel their time is more precious than the law-abiding drivers waiting in the queue. I know what you’re thinking: driving in the emergency lane is more inconsiderate than life threatening (unless there happens to be a pedestrian or cyclist in that lane) but the point would be to make it clear that it’s not okay to break road rules, no matter how unimportant they may seem.
What’s needed is the broken-window policy that was so successful in reducing crime in New York, where cracking down on petty crimes such as vandalism and public drinking helped to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes from happening. The message would be that misbehaviour on the roads - no matter how trivial it’s perceived to be - will not be tolerated.
There is nothing trivial about bad driving if you look at our alarmingly high road death toll, which grew to over 14 000 last year. Rogue driving and rule-breaking has visibly become a lot worse in recent years, and it happens because drivers are allowed to get away with it by a police force seemingly motivated more by revenue generation from lucrative speeding fines than saving lives.
We’ve seen how simply deploying more speed traps every year has failed dismally to reduce the road death toll. It’s time to use our imaginations and try something different. At least, that’s what I’d do.
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