Steal Christmas to save lives

Soon the annual lemming-like migration down to the coast and inwards to the hinterland will begin. Almost immediately we will be guaranteed reports detailing the carnage on the roads. At what is supposed to be the apex moment for families every year, we will read of how some have been ripped apart forever by driver error or downright selfishness, or both. 

We will read of ruined opportunities and lost futures, all desperately sad and almost all wholly avoidable. Will it even register? Unless you are personally affected, probably not. Our annual roadkill barely makes the front page unless it is unprecedented in its scale of tragedy and gore.

We will no doubt be treated to bravura performances by the increasingly Elton John-esque Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula either in oversized sunglasses and gold bling or in a borrowed traffic police uniform, high visibility jacket, oversized sunglasses and gold bling, with choice bloodcurdling threats for errant drivers and there will be roadblocks, especially on our highways.

In truth though, Mr Fearfokkol, who has now rebranded himself on his beloved Twitter as Mr Fix, should be on the highways and byways all the time – along with the cops; all of them from the SAPS to metro, traffic and even provincial traffic.

The Department of Transport and the Road Traffic Management Corporation have been in talks to drop the speed limits in urban areas as well as open roads by 20km/h each. The only question is why they’re bothering; on the one hand the congestion is getting so bad you can’t drive close to that speed, but even if they weren’t it’s not the speed limits that are the problem it’s that we can’t enforce them.

You can draw a line in the sand wherever you want but if there are no consequences people will continue to break them with impunity; just like they overtake on solid barrier lines going up a blind rise, or drive unlicensed and unroadworthy vehicles.

Despite slashing the legal limit to even banning looking at a glass of beer or taking cough syrup, people still get blind drunk and climb behind the wheel. Sometimes they’re even high court judges who end up backing into other people’s walls.

People do it because they can – and it’s getting worse. Our roads are full of aspirants learning to drive in trucks before getting behind the wheel of high-performance cars once they get their licences. More and more of us are driving like taxi drivers; treating stop signs like yields, blasting through amber traffic lights as they turn red.

As for taxi drivers, they remain a law unto themselves – using the bespoke bus lanes in Joburg and Pretoria as a godsend to beat the rush, rather than blithely driving up the wrong lane in the face of oncoming traffic as they do elsewhere.

We need Mbaks to become the grinch that stole Christmas for those who ruin it for everyone else – while he’s at it he can make that his New Year’s resolution too. 

As for the rest of us, if we are really serious about celebrating the season of goodwill, let’s each start when we get behind the wheel.

Originally published by the Saturday Star on 14 December 2019.