It will be Easter in three weeks’ time. The great lemming-like surge to either the coast or the Hinterland will be upon us – if the price of petrol hasn’t skyrocketed to new record levels by then. Two years ago, you couldn’t give oil away as prices tanked across the world because of COVID-19, now you’ve almost got to re-mortgage the house to fill your tank because of the war in Ukraine. But, if it keeps us at home, maybe that’s a good thing.
People are going to die on the roads if they travel. They do every year, but somehow the omens are more ominous this year. Maybe it’s the traumatic memories of lockdown, but anecdotally it seems our driving is becoming worse than ever. All road deaths are tragic, but South Africa sets the bar: taxis going head on into trucks, busses ploughing into fully laden fuel tankers.
The horror never stops. The butcher’s bill just keeps rising inexorably… until the Easter weekend and then everyone becomes, pardon the pun, pious. Cue performative grief; public rending of hair and gnashing of teeth.
Is it because so many more of us are actually on the roads over Easter? Or is it because there’s more media attention? Bad driving, criminally irresponsible driving, is all around us, all the time. In fact, it’s so bad that if you’re just doom scrolling through social media, you’ll probably come across a video that someone’s taking of another driver literally wiping their backside on the entire K53.
Last weekend, someone posted a video of themselves tailgating a BMW on a public road, pushing the driver ahead to overtake as they slipstreamed them, crossing solid double barrier lines, narrowly missing oncoming cars. There was no footage of the speedometer, but you didn’t need it to know they were way over the speed limit, with the engine screaming and the scenery flashing by. The only thing louder than the engine was the delighted laughter of the passenger filming the chase.
There’ll be cops aplenty on the roads over the Easter weekend, there’ll be private paramedics and maybe even helicopters waiting for the carnage down the N2 to Durban and probably the N1 north and south. Even then people will still get killed, because there are drivers who are prepared to take chances; to speed; to overtake in the emergency lanes; and, to be selfish.
It is estimated that 14 000 people die on South African roads every year. That comes down to an average of 269 people a week. Last Easter, 235 people died. The Department of Transport didn’t count 2020 because there was a lockdown and we couldn’t go anywhere, but the 2021 fatality count was slightly down from 2019, when 260 people died.
It looks like it’s statistically safer to travel at Easter. That should terrify all of us. It should galvanise government to start jailing killer drivers and throw away the key.
Instead, once again this year we will be drenched in a tsunami of crocodile tears as the politicians alight from their blue light convoys to wring their hands at the graveside.
Originally published in the Saturday Star on 26 March 2022.