Zero tolerance ... yada, yada, yada
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Johannesburg - As the season of jolly and driving folly approaches, so come the customary “zero tolerance” pronouncements by traffic authorities who vow, as they do every year, that no stone shall be left unturned in the quest to make our roads a safer place over the holidays.
As they do every year, these lofty promises make for good newspaper headlines but are out of sync with what happens on the ground.
Here is an example:
On one of my regular driving routes the Ekurhuleni Metro police frequently fine motorists for not coming to a halt at a particular stop street. The stop street’s located at a driveway entrance into an office complex, and I’ve only seen the traffic police there in the evenings when the office block’s locked up for the night with no traffic entering or exiting. Of course, knowing it’s locked up motorists driving past are less likely to come to a complete stop, hence the ‘law enforcement’.
Without implying that drivers should be free to pick and choose when they should adhere to a road sign, there is clearly no road safety intention in policing a driveway into a closed office building. It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that this is a cynical money-making ploy, guaranteeing maximum returns for cops seeking to meet their fine (or bribe) quotas.
The cause of road safety would surely be better served by the cops moving a hundred metres down the same road where there’s an intersection that has actual traffic, and where their presence might prevent injury or loss of life.
Similar examples of questionably ethical ‘road-safety’ enforcement can be seen everywhere, particularly the lazy (and financially lucrative) convention of using automated speed traps to replace, rather than supplement, a holistic traffic law enforcement strategy.
Again, excessive speed is not to be condoned but neither is the practice of traps being set up in places where they have maximum money-making potential, as they often are, rather than in accident hotspots.
In a country that has one of the highest road death tolls per capita in the world, we need to do better than this. More than 1300 people died on our roads during last year’s festive-season period and over 14 000 lose their lives every year.
A succession of transport ministers has been through the revolving door of this most vital of government departments, but not one has shown the will or the imagination to put a realistic dent in our abysmal road-death statistics.
TOUGH LEGISLATION WORTHLESS
Current minister Dipuo Peters has announced plans for tougher legislation – for instance reclassifying drunken driving from a Schedule 3 to a more severe Schedule 5 offence, in addition to new regulations that came in effect in May this year compelling passengers in motor vehicles to wear seatbelts and drivers to ensure that children under the age of three years are placed in car seats.
These are laudable efforts, but laws are meaningless without enforcement. Our roads are littered with very bad drivers who flout the law because they get away with it, and people will drive as badly as law enforcement authorities allow them to.
Creating a culture of compliance amongst rogue motorists requires high-visibility traffic policing, and not just the kind that causes drivers to briefly slow down for the speed trap they’ve spotted hidden in the bushes, only to continue with their dangerous-driving ways as soon as they’ve passed it.
Not enough road users follow the rules. On a daily basis we see drivers who use their cellphones while driving, who don’t buckle up, who change lanes dangerously, who don’t use their indicators, and who ignore road markings and traffic signs.
In many cases pedestrians walk across busy roads without looking. These behaviours can be improved through ongoing education and a visible police presence, instead of wasting resources catching offenders at a ‘safe’ stop street.
As long as revenue generation remains a primary motive in traffic law enforcement, tough-talking legislation and the best-intentioned slogans are worthless.