For some time now the Automobile Association (AA) has been calling for more effective traffic policing, as an urgent step to addressing road carnage in our country. According to the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), approximately 13 000 people died on the country’s roads last year. While it is agreed that the attitude of motorists generally needs significant improvement, a radical rethink is also needed among traffic law enforcement authorities to address serious crashes, and road deaths, on the country’s roads.
The AA says, and we agree, that there is too much emphasis placed on “static” policing where officers check for speeding cars or for expired licence discs while stationed at the side of the road. While a zero tolerance approach is good, this alone simply doesn’t work as risky motorists adjust their behaviour until they are past these points.
Enforcement of laws against dangerous driving actions need to be prioritised by law enforcement authorities. This included monitoring drivers who speed, but also those who overtake dangerously, drive in emergency lanes to avoid traffic congestion, use electronic devices while driving, or who swerve in and out of traffic without regard for other drivers.
Laws are flouted and lives are risked on the road not the side of the road, and that is where our law enforcers need to be: on the road. The areas, which are known to the police and public where laws are consistently being ignored, should receive focused attention.
The Association said apart from changing the way they operate, law enforcers also needed to ensure they applied the law consistently, and fairly, to all road users. It noted that there have been calls from government for harsher penalties for certain traffic offences, but it said the current laws are more than sufficient and just need to be enforced. It said it is unfortunate that some road violations are treated differently on a case-by-case basis instead of applying the same penalties and punishments even-handedly no matter who is involved.
In April Transport Minister Dipuo Peters announced that investigations into several major crashes would be undertaken by her department and the RTMC, in part with a view to improving policing on roads. The AA awaits the outcomes of these investigations with keen interest, and how these will translate into specific policing interventions to reduce road deaths in South Africa.
There needs to be a strong message across South Africa to all road users: the police will act if you drive in a manner that endangers other road users, and there will be severe consequences for your actions. While this approach may not immediately solve the long-term problems inherent on our roads, we believe it is a necessary first step to saving lives.