We are a nation of aggressive, lawless motorists and reducing the speed limit will not result in fewer accidents and road deaths.
This was the unanimous reaction of transport and traffic experts to Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele’s call this week for the national speed limit to be reduced from 120km/h to 100km/h in the hope of curbing the carnage on national roads. According to the Department of Transport, more than 14 000 people are killed in road accidents every year.
Alta Swanepoel, a private, independent traffic and transport consultant, said the move would be nothing more than “a paper exercise with no value” that would only serve to rev up the tempers of already aggressive motorists.
“Ninety-five percent of accidents are as a result of human error. People cause accidents because they disobey the laws of the road. Committing traffic offences is a way of life in South Africa,” Swanepoel said.
“There is already aggression on our roads and you see it even where there is a 90km/h speed limit – no one adheres to it. And camera law enforcement is like spanking a child after he has done something wrong,” Swanepoel said.
She said authorities would be more effective if they focused on pulling motorists over and confronting them for speeding. However, she said revenues would go down because the police could only physically stop 20 cars a day while cameras were able to catch 2 000 motorists a day.
“When he gets a fine in the post a month later he thinks he is not doing something wrong but that he is funding the mayor’s new vehicle,” she said.
Swanepoel said before reducing the speed limit the K53 driver training system should be assessed because it was producing incompetent drivers. She said drivers should have to prove they could handle a vehicle at speeds higher than 60km/h to pass.
However, Paul Browning, also an independent transport consultant, said research by the CSIR in the early 1980s analysing accidents had shown that there had been a concurrent drop in the number of accidents and fatalities when the speed limit was reduced from 100km/h to 80km/h.
Browning said the reduction could have a “small but positive impact” on road accidents but contributing factors were human error, unroadworthy vehicles such as those with smooth tyres and bad brakes, and weak law enforcement.
“A reduction in the speed limit would make a contribution to the severity and number of road accidents,” Browning said.
“It’s broadly accepted that we are not a particularly law abiding citizenry, and you can see it on the roads. The Road Traffic Management Corporation is supposed to broadly oversee everything and the question of whether it is doing its job effectively must be asked, but it might argue that it does not have authority over all relevant elements.
“I am quite sure we do not have coherent, clear objectives to improve the roads and bring down the rate of accidents.”
Dr Vaughan Mostert
, a senior lecturer in transportation
at the University of Johannesburg, said vehicle roadworthiness, poor public transport, including rail, and bad driver attitudes were at the core of the problem of the high road death toll.
“If you overtake on a blind rise, whether doing 40 or 90, you are going to kill yourself and if your vehicle has smooth tyres and bad brakes, going from 100 to nil is not going to make much difference.
“We need a holistic approach. We have to stop people from getting behind the wheel drunk and from driving for 15 hours without taking a break. We need spot checks on vehicles and to pull them off the road and scrap them, but unfortunately, enforcement is the main problem. We have developed a culture of disodenience,” Mostert said.
He said congestion was another problem that could be addressed and transport authorities should set the example by abandoning blue light convoys for a bus or taxi.
Howard Dembovsky, National Chairman of the Justice Project South Africa, said speed limits of 100 already applied to taxis and buses and that this existing law should be enforced rather than focusing on light motor vehicles.
Meanwhile, more than 800 unroadworthy buses and taxis have been taken off South Africa’s roads over the past two weeks according to the Department of Transport.
Ndebele instructed law enforcement officers to stop and check every bus and taxi on August 31 following the deaths of at least 76 people in August in crashes involving buses and taxis. Between August 31 and September 18, 127 625 buses and taxis were stopped and checked and 210 pupil transport vehicles, 210 buses, 395 minibuses and 159 trucks were scrapped.
Some 27 908 fines were issued for public transport offences with more than 430 public transport drivers arrested, including 67 for drunk driving, 20 for excessive speed, 13 for reckless and/or negligent driving, 50 in connection with public transport permits and 391 for overloading.