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Proposed laws have potential to do serious harm

18.05.2015

ABOUT a month ago websites were set alight by outraged motorists voicing their opinions concerning the proposal by transport minister, Dipuo Peters, to give traffic officers the necessary authority to re-test drivers in order to determine whether they meet the minimum standards.

Following the deaths of 287 people during the Easter weekend, an increase of 48 percent compared to 2014, Peters said this plan would help rid South Africa’s roads of motorists who have licences, but who cannot drive properly. 

Motorists raised concerns, ranging from possible corruption by means of bribes to drivers, who possess the necessary experience but lack knowledge of the K53-licensing system.

“The Transport Ministry and the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) said more than half a million new drivers have been given licences since January this year, which is a contributing factor in the rise of fatalities,” Eyewitness News reported in April.

This then highlights an underlying problem within the Department Of Transport (DoT) since they are ultimately responsible for issuing licences to half a million new drivers. Additionally, what would be the point of re-testing a driver? If the ministry shifts such a significant amount of blame to the half a million newly licensed individuals, does the current system then prove to be ineffective?

There are bigger matters causing havoc on South Africa’s roads than performing “clutch-control” at exactly 2 000rpm every time you pull away.

The ministry first has to seed out the problems causing this “devastation,” with more visible policing, before performing a crackdown on drivers who are not spending more time performing 101-point checks than actually concentrating on the road.

Following the ministry’s earlier plan for traffic officers to re-test drivers and opening the floodgates for possible corruption, a new set of regulations have been drafted tightening the noose around drivers’ necks even more. The Times reported that one of these proposals, as published in the Government Gazette suggests:

Reducing the speed limit in urban areas to 40km/h. Roads that are not freeways outside urban areas will be limited to 80km/h and a 100km/h limit for freeways passing through residential areas will be implemented.”

This draft, if applied, will slow the economy down to a crawl. With an already pressured financial system and a proposal threatening to grind its backbone to a near standstill, the ripple effect could be severe.

Imagine, for a second, a speed limit reduced by 20km/h. People will be late for appointments, even worse, late for work, spending even more time on the roads instead of with their families as they coast along at donkey-cart pace. In the commercial sector, deliveries will take longer – drivers will be more fatigued on long distance hauls, as they push to make deadline – causing an immense amount of collateral damage when an accident arises. 

I am no mathematician but my reasoning tells me that reducing the speed limit can actually cause more accidents on the already deadly South African road network. The simple fact is, speed limits are imposed to ensure a uniform flow of traffic. Lower the speed limit however, and you still get the village idiots who feel they are not bound by a social contract to adhere to the speed limits, like the rest of us.

Mr Village Idiot will - at some stage - fall back on primitive instincts and totally disregard the donkey-paced rules of the road, causing even more serious accidents. Since the average difference in speed is even greater between Mr Idiot and the normal motorist than it was before the utterly ridiculous proposed law, it can cause even more harm than good.

Instead of giving traffic officers the authority to re-test drivers - which is an impractical idea on its own – or reducing the speed limits, or even testing the patience of motorists by forcing them to re-take a series of “practical tests” upon licence renewal in an already ineffectual administrative system, why not take it from a genuinely practical approach?

Here’s what I suggest: Pass up on nonsensical legislation and employ already existing advanced driver training institutions to help with the teething troubles on the road.

It will be a simple and effective matter of going for a refresher course at one of these institutions every five years in order for drivers to understand the consequences of their actions.

Before renewing a licence, a driver should prove - by means of a certificate or electronic logbook - that they have indeed attended one of these courses.

As for corruption, all these institutions should remain private entities, contrary to draft suggestions of building government-run advanced driver training institutions. We all know how that’s going to play out.

Article written by Deon van der Walt
18.05.2015
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