I’ve been driving the M1 highway from Pretoria to Johannesburg and back for the last 14 years.
Along with many other road warriors, I can regale you with stories of things that have happened on or alongside that stretch of tarmac that acts as the main economic artery in Gauteng, and arguably South Africa. Stories like the pink patch of tar in the right hand lane just before the Allandale off ramp where a car once burnt out. Or the 2 trucks that collided and jack-knifed in 2002, one’s trailer hanging off the Samrand bridge, that blocked the highway for a full day. How about the guy standing on the roof of his Polo on the side of the highway where the Jukskei River bridge is, dancing his heart out in peak hour traffic.
Alas, this post is not about the memorable things I have seen on this stretch of black top. No, it is about the recklessness and aggression one witnesses everyday.
We have quite a few problems in this beloved African country of ours, we also have many stories of hope and perseverance, hard work and good old-fashioned luck. Hard working Saffas that, through all that our hapless government throws at us, get up every morning and apply our knowledge and skills to the benefit of the economy. Why then, through rampant crime, government corruption, non-existent service delivery and everything else that we deal with, do we have to go around and mow down our fellow citizens in our iron steeds?
I will wager a guess on a few of the reasons why we have become so unrepentantly dismissive of and entitled on our roads and fellow road users:
- Consequence. This is the number one reason why there are so many reckless, negligent and just plain terrible drivers on the road. There is almost zero policing on our national and suburban roads, which means that I can skip a red traffic light or stop sign, change lanes without indicating, speed to my hearts’ content and if anyone dares hoot at me I’ll flip them the bird or worse, get out and assault them, without any chance of being punished. Our roads have become a free-for-all, do anything you like as long as no one catches you on camera or you ram a Metro cop car. Why? Because the law is not enforced. Even when it is, our justice system does not punish offenders sufficiently as to deter them from not doing it again. No enforcement + no consequence = anarchy*destruction to the power of death (please note, this link contains graphic images).
- Ability. Having a vehicle does not mean you are able to drive. Having a valid drivers license doesn’t mean you are a responsible driver either. Sticking to the rules of the road and being a considerate road user are signs of the ability to drive. Only through practice and consistent legal use of the roads do you build experience and confidence. I’m not sure what the prevalence is of fake drivers licenses but it seems to be a huge issue. I heard a story of a domestic worker who asked her employer for an advance on her salary because she wanted to buy a driver’s license. The domestic did not understand that you had to pass a test, she was told you needed R5 000 in cash and you’re good to go. Now the more this happens the worse the road deaths statistics will get. More untrained drivers means more orphans, widows and widowers. This leads to my next point…
- Knowledge. Does anyone still know the rules of the road? Here’s what I see on a daily basis: cars and taxi’s pulling over on the highway to drop off passengers, cars behind you so close you can’t see the nose of the car, cars jumping red lights and stop signs at speed, taxi’s and cars driving in the emergency lane on the highway to bypass traffic, drivers not checking their blind spots and not indicating and either pushing other drivers out of lanes or off the road. Now, if you bought your license, you won’t know the rules, and if you don’t know the rules then you are going to kill someone. If you know the rules and consciously ignore them, you are guilty of attempted murder. Arrive Alive’s website is a great source of info if you are unsure of your rights and obligations as a road user in SA.
A few notes to those breaking the law:
- The speed limit on SA highways is 120kph. If you want to drive faster than a 120kph, go to a racetrack. If you are doing more than 120kph you are being inconsiderate and what you’re doing is illegal, you’re putting other road users in danger and you are not entitled to use the road more than anyone else (emergency vehicles excluded). Don’t tailgate, it’s very dangerous, amounts to intimidation and is reckless driving. If you are one of those special idiots who pass someone only to swerve back in front of them and brake to a standstill because they didn’t get out of your way fast enough, know this, you will kill someone. I hope your mental fortitude is strong enough to live with the fact that you left a family without a father, mother or child because you wanted to get home 5 minutes earlier. SA prisons are not fun, hope you enjoy your stay.
- If you have an emergency, follow these guidelines. Even in an emergency, you still need to follow the rules of the road.
- Red means stop. Always. You can’t ignore it if you’re late for a meeting or hasty to get home. Red is not green when there are no other vehicles currently crossing. Red is stop, never anything else.
- Flicking the indicator does not mean you are entitled to change lanes, it means you are indicating you want to change lanes. You can only change lanes when safe to do so, not immediately after you have indicated and everyone behind you just needs to make way.
- Do you constantly turn a traffic light crossing into a mini parking lot? If you do you probably ran a red and now you’re obstructing traffic. Whether turning into a crossing or crossing over, only do so when there is space for you on the other side of the crossing. Driving into the crossing, especially when the light has gone yellow, when there is no space for you on the other side only worsens the situation. Don’t be that guy…
- I know none of the most hated road users in SA, taxi drivers, will be reading this, but as I’m on a roll I’ll let it out anyway. Don’t drive in the emergency lane when there is traffic, you’re not entitled to get where you’re going faster than anyone else is. Don’t pull over anywhere on a road, blocking traffic behind you, unless you’re stopping at a bus stop. Don’t overload your taxi. Don’t cut off oncoming vehicles or vehicles behind you. In fact, don’t be a typical taxi driver.
- Don’t talk or text on your phone while driving. If you don’t have Bluetooth or another kind of hands-free setup, refrain from making or taking calls or texting unless you’ve come to a stop in a safe area.
- Don’t make u-turns where you aren’t allowed to, and even when you are allowed make sure it’s safe.
- Lastly, if you made a mistake on the road, acknowledge it and apologise to the driver/s around you. Don’t be the person that flips the bird, hoots and flashes or assaults the innocent party because you made a mistake and endangered others. Take it on the chin that you messed up and don’t lash out when you were in the wrong.
The car you drive, the money you earn, your station in life or the scarceness of your time does not make you more or less entitled than anyone else on our roads. When it comes to our highways and byways, you are not a special snowflake. Whether you are driving a Kia Picanto or a Ferrari 458, traffic on the M1 is the great leveler, don’t put anyone’s life in danger because you think you are important. A Ferrari will get to Pretoria no faster than the Picanto when it’s bumper-to-bumper. Remember that car pooling is becoming more popular as are mobile phones and more and more people are installing dash cams to ensure they have proof in case of an accident and subsequent insurance claim. Cameras are everywhere and capture everything.
I’ll be the guy with a GoPro camera in the windscreen and the rear window. I will catch you being an idiot on the road and I will post it on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter an send off copies to the Metro Police. If you think you’re special and can drive anyway you want, I’ll help make you famous. Your fans are waiting, in Polsmoor.
Follow me on Twitter. Unless you drive like an idiot.