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Honest officials can make roads safer


So it’s a new year and it seems it is more of the same, particularly when it comes to South African roads and accidents.

The confirmed death toll for December 2013 was a massive 1 184. It’s scary to think that over a period meant to be about love, sharing and family, so many people didn’t get to enjoy these festivities, as they lost their loved ones.

The carnage on our roads continue to be a concern, as transport minister Dipuo Peters highlighted the major contributory factors to be dangerous overtaking, driver fatigue, drinking and driving as well as excessive speeding.

“It is therefore of great concern to us that our education and enforcement messages fall short of reaching every road user. The picture we have of fatal crashes on our roads is scary, to say the least,” she added and urged motorists to obey traffic rules and ensure they get enough rest and not drink and drive or walk.

These messages continue to be the same rigmarole passed onto motorists year-in and year-out, when truthfully we need a complete overhaul of the driver’s mindset. Government continues to promote safe driving through various mediums and channels, but the rot that stems from corruption ultimately prevents these campaigns from becoming effect.

For example, I often hear friends brag about how they “slipped a cop a R100” after they were caught drinking and driving, after which the officer let them go. Simple acts like these fuel misdemeanours and create the wrong driving attitude. It’s a case of, “I’ve gotten away with it before; I can do it again.”

This kind of thing reigns in all aspects of driving, from unroadworthy vehicles to speeding. Whenever you get pulled over, you know offering a bribe will almost certainly get you off the hook. That’s if you are ever caught to begin with. The lack of manpower and respect for our boys in blue is frightening.

I was fortunate enough to travel to Mozambique over the festive season. Being my first time doing cross-border driving, I was frightened and felt ill-prepared. This resulted in some substantial reading and research to try and calm my nerves.

All the research painted a similar picture - one of horrid road infrastructure, a border consisting of long queues and traffic officers who will do anything to fine you.

There’s an estimated 29 810km of roads in Mozambique and fuel was said to be a rarity at some points, so you could imagine my concern. Nevertheless, I embarked on my massive journey with all the relevant papers required and enough photocopies of my documents that I could’ve distributed them like flyers at a traffic light.

Thankfully, despite all the negatives I read about Mozambique, I’m happy to report an incident-free vacation. In fact, other than some terrible driving from the locals, it was a smooth trip. However, I do believe our law-enforcement officers could learn a thing or two from their neighbouring brothers.

For instance, I was stopped twice for speeding. I’ll admit I was speeding, but not stupid fast, just a few kilometres over the legal limit. But anybody who has ever driven through Mozambique will understand when I say that the speed limits are annoying. They decrease from 100km/h to 60km/h in every town and you stumble through a ‘town’ every few kilometres.

So while it’s annoying, it is unfortunately the law and the traffic officers are quick to enforce it and fine you on the spot. The good thing about this is you become aware of your speed and constantly monitor and adjust it so that you don’t get fined. Unlike in South Africa, where you get a fine in the mail several months later and you can’t even remember where and if the event actually occurred.

In my opinion, spot-fining for speeding works, provided the officers aren’t corrupt like my prosecutors who weren’t even interested in a cold beverage on a scorching day.
But they didn’t only fine for speeding, they pulled over any vehicle that looked half unroadworthy or was overloaded. It seemed like they were on a mission to make their roads safer.

I’m not preaching and saying it’s perfect, because a trip to Maputo will quickly tell you it’s not and that horrid driving is still rampant. But the traffic officers I dealt with there seemed to have a different attitude to our own, an attitude that made me believe they want to make a difference.

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