It's not a road race: live and let live

One message read. Three friends dead. Spine-chilling.
Seeing this billboard hanging a few metres overhead before Umhlanga’s Millennium Bridge in Durban, was unnerving. We are creatures of technology and so many of us have, at some point, glanced at our phones while driving or stuck in traffic. We think it will just take a few seconds and then our eyes will be back on the road. But all it takes is a few seconds for something to go wrong… for you to miss seeing a speeding car, or someone cutting into your lane or a stationary vehicle in front of you. It’s what causes accidents.
Frankly, if it’s important enough, the person will call you rather than message you. Most cars have the bluetooth call function or there are always hands-free kits you can buy.
Stop texting and driving. It’s not worth the risk.
This bold campaign by the KwaZulu-Natal Transport Department must be applauded. It is business unusual in a province plagued by horror accidents week in and week out.
Yes, there may be some relief that the country’s overall road death toll for the 2017/2018 holiday period is 11 percent lower than the previous year. But that’s still more than 1 500 lives lost. Parents, grandparents, children, siblings, breadwinners and bright young minds… all robbed of the right to live on the roads.
And, on the very day that these statistics were released, KwaZulu-Natal residents faced the news that a family of eight was killed in an accident. They had been returning from a family holiday. Four of the victims were children; the youngest was just four years old. The driver of the bakkie that collided with the vehicle that this family was travelling in is charged not only with culpable homicide, but drunken driving too. He was granted bail. Yes, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. But if bail is granted to drivers who intentionally get behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol and it leads to a fatal accident, then no driver is going to take the rules of the road seriously.

This is what remains of the car the family was travelling in. Picture from Arrive Alive

That’s my biggest concern; flagrant disregard for the road rules on a daily basis. And let us not point fingers at taxi, bus and truck drivers. Motorists are equally to blame. There is this air of arrogance and entitlement that many drivers have, so they push the boundaries and break the rules. They drive way faster than the speed limit and literally push other drivers off the road. So, even though rage road incidents are disturbing, they don’t surprise me anymore.
South Africans lead rushed lives and this is taken to the road. There’s the morning school rush, the rush to get to work on time and then it starts again in the afternoon, the rush to pick up children from school and the rush to get home to cook supper and help children with homework. I feel breathless already.
I could no longer handle the madness of it all. I changed jobs and changed my working hours. But not everyone can do that. It’s time government seriously re-thinks about the quality of life it is providing citizens. The GO! Durban integrated transport system is a great plan. I am cautiously optimistic about how it will work in practice.
But other things too must change.
The standard 8am to 4pm or 9am to 5pm working hours have created a traffic nightmare. Companies need to take the lead in this regard and consider flexible working hours, perhaps a four day working week with longer hours each day. Maybe school hours could also change. It really is time to think out of the box.
Accidents are bound to happen on roads anywhere in the world. But, in South Africa, too many of these accidents are fatal. There is a high level of driver error to blame, be it texting and driving, driving under the influence, driving over the speed limit or driving with fatigue.
Such drivers do not deserve to be on the road. I have lost count of how many times I have heard people say, “Looks like he/she bought their license.” That could very well be the case. Government knows this too.
This week, Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi revealed that vehicle testing centres and driver and learner testing centres will be audited to root out illegal activities as part of the broader bid to curb road fatalities. It’s not the first time we have heard this rhetoric. But this time, I really want to believe that government wants to change things.
I want to believe too, that we all can be more considerate drivers. I want to believe that we won’t break the rules of the road under any circumstances.
“Live and let live”… it’s a popular saying. Let’s take it with us each time we get onto the roads. We owe it to this family of eight and thousands others who have lost their lives on our roads.

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