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Thought Leader: My road safety tantrum

28 Oct

Column of the day

There she was. A pretty blonde mommy of a darling daughter, cruising to wherever she was going in her shiny red Ford Fiesta. While she was busy SMSing on her cellphone, she forgot to use her indicator. Instead of going straight ahead she turned right. Next to her, her daughter — a pretty little angel in a white dress with pink flowers — was sitting on her knees, leaning with her hands on the dashboard. She smiled, mommy smiled. A happy little family. Bliss.

What is wrong with this picture? As far as I know EVERYTHING!

In South Africa, when it comes to traffic and road safety, there seems to be this prevailing slack mindset comprising elements such as “that’s not gonna happen to me”, “ag, there are never roadblocks so I can drink”, “who cares?”, “I will be fine, trust me, I will be fine. I have been driving for XX years” and “mind your own business, it is my life”.

It is a mentality that is found across all segments of society. While minibus drivers skip red lights, cut you off, and ignore railway track warning signals, yuppie boys from green leafy suburbs have no issues with crawling behind the wheel after half a dozen dops. In addition, scores of adults from all walks of life see no harm in letting their offspring bounce around in the back and front seats. In Cape Town in particular, the non-use of indicators is a pandemic and so is speeding and texting while driving.

Ooooh, you think I am exaggerating now? Then please do me a favour. Please have a proper look when you are on the road. For an entire day, please monitor how many times people:

a) Drive while using their cellphone;
b) Do not use their indicators;
c) Don’t wear their safety belts;
d) Do not have their children strapped in;
e) Drive too fast;
f ) Skip red lights;
g) Have no issues crawling behind the wheel after a night out;
h) Drive in cars that are not supposed to be on the road;
i) Sit in the front passenger seat with a child on their lap — no safety belt; and
j) Transport others in the back of their bakkie.

Look people, the statistics do not lie. They simply don’t. Every year, approximately 15 000 people die on our roads. That is 41 people EVERY DAY, which comes down to almost two people an hour. In other words: Since I started writing this column, one person has died in traffic and another one is about to get hit but a car, flung through a windscreen or run over. That is a not a result of people attaching value to road safety.

Personally, I have forgotten how many times I have cursed at people who see their indicators as mere decoration. I have forgotten how many times I had to swerve out of the way because of some idiot being preoccupied with the other person in the other lane. Just one of my friends, and I have heaps of them, has a hands-free set that he uses all the time. He happens to be from Europe. I have forgotten how many times I had to ask friends to use their safety belts. I am fed up of being annoyed when people jump behind the wheel after having a couple of drinks too many. “But there is no public transport,” is usually the reply. “Otherwise we’d … ”

Bullshit. Utter bullshit. You cannot ignore your own responsibility and sensibility by blaming something else for not existing. There are ways to have fun without putting yourself and others in danger. What about taking a cab back home? What about having a designated driver? What about calling a Rikkis taxi? What about one of those “you drink we drive” services? What about drinking less? What about drinking water in between dops?

Why this rant? I will never forget an accident site I witnessed as a reporter a couple of years ago. It was horrific. Two cars had collided on the N1. One person died: a small child. By the time the boy, who had been sitting in the front seat without wearing a safety belt, hit his skull against the tarmac, it was game over.

I will never ever forget the look on his mother’s face. Utter sadness. Devastation. Humiliation. Grief. Anger. Hopelessness. Disbelief. But most of all I saw guilt. Guilt because she had known better. Guilt because she could have prevented his death. Guilt because she had not been thinking. Guilt because she knew she was the one to blame. Not for the accident, but for her son’s death.

Now, every time I see a young child in the front seat who is not wearing a safety belt I think of that little boy who died a couple of years ago. Like him, the little blonde thing did not realise the necessity of a safety belt. Her mommy, however, the person responsible for her safety, did. Right?

 

* This column, written by Miriam Mannak, was published on Thought Leader / Mail & Guardian in October 2010 *

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