22\\11\\04 Speed trap at Jan Smuts over the M1 freeway in Parktown. Pic:Mike Dib etsoe

South African drivers are not skilled enough to handle their vehicles or equipped to follow even the basic rules of the road - and the driving licence test is to blame, say driving experts.

The Department of Transport is in the process of drafting amendments to legislation which could see drivers having to be more skilled before they even take the test, but the amendments are unlikely to test learners on their ability to handle vehicles at speed.

A total of 27 772 accidents were recorded in eThekwini in the first six months of this year, resulting in 228 deaths.

Statistics from the eThekwini Transport Authority reveal that pedestrian deaths account for the majority of fatalities - at least 143 - and vehicles overturning and head-on collisions resulted in at least 38 people being killed.

They also reveal:

8141 accidents were because of rear-ending.

4726 stemmed from same-direction sideswiping.

1921 were caused by drivers crashing into fixed objects.

Accidents occurring during parking and reversing were among the top statistics.

Independent road traffic and legislation consultant Alta Swanepoel said the K53 test allowed drivers to get their licences by travelling at speeds under 60km/h, whereas the former K52 test ensured drivers were capable of driving at 120km/h.

“People can crawl at 50km/h and get their licence which enables them to buy a two-tonne bakkie with power-steering.”

Swanepoel said rear-ending and sideswiping were caused by people unable to control their speed.

Another problem was the current legislation which allowed a person with a truck licence - which did not require parking during the test - to drive a light vehicle.

John Motsatsing, acting chief director of road traffic legislation at the transport department, said draft proposals to “overhaul the entire driving licence process” were in the comment stage.

One proposal is that in addition to having a learner’s licence, drivers would be required to undergo 40 to 60 hours of training with a reputable driving school before applying for a driving licence.

However, the test itself, including the speed, would not change.

Rob Handfield-Jones, road safety activist and managing director of driving skills company driving.co.za, said no fundamental changes had taken place in basic driving skills and behaviour for 15 years.

“When one takes into account issues such as licensing and alcohol abuse by drivers and pedestrians, as well as the nature of the eThekwini urban area and the increased safety levels of modern cars compared to those available in 1998, I would say this data is exactly what I would expect from a country that has not paid proper attention to its road safety issues in the past decade and a half.”

Handfield-Jones cited driver error such as poor lane discipline, failure to look far enough ahead and predict danger, illegal overtaking, failure to observe before manoeuvring, and not maintaining an adequate following distance as some of the fundamental reasons for increased accidents.

“The standard of the licence test has not changed since it was developed in 1983.”

And even that standard - which he believed did not equip drivers to drive modern cars - was not adequately enforced.

“The authorities believe that setting up speed traps will yield road safety, but it hasn’t and doesn’t. So people have learnt that they can drive how they like, as long as they don’t break the speed limit.

“Almost every driving error is caused by a traffic offence…

“In other words 87 percent of the traffic fatalities in the data are caused by a very small number of traffic offences.

“If we stopped messing around with speed traps and instead enforced the relevant offences strongly, we could cut fatalities by a huge amount.”

Metro police spokesman Eugene Msomi agreed that most accidents were due to driver error, such as intersection collisions where drivers “try to beat traffic light phases”. Speeding was also a cause as it affected reaction time, he said.

“The unfortunate part of this problem is that aggressive speed timing enforcement seems to not be producing desired outcomes, which is drivers changing their behaviour.”

“The incoming Aarto law with demerit system will obviously counter this problem.” - Natal Mercury