Worries over road carnage

FAST WHEELS: Youngsters love cars, but are they getting their driver's licences too easily? Pic. Antonio Muchave. © Sowetan.
FAST WHEELS: Youngsters love cars, but are they getting their driver's licences too easily? Pic. Antonio Muchave. © Sowetan.

Getrude Makhafola andMfundekelwa Mkhulisi

Getrude Makhafola andMfundekelwa Mkhulisi

The phone call parents dread most: "This is the police, there has been an accident ... "

Usually, this is bad news about your son or daughter. Car accidents have claimed the lives of many on South Africa's roads, especially young people.

Young people love fast cars, and fast cars kill them.

Last week Sowetan reported an accident involving nine students, crammed into a small fast car, driving home on a Sunday morning after attending a heady Saturday night party.

There was a smash. Six of them died and the other three suffered serious injuries. One is paralysed from the waist down.

The driver, a youth in his prime, lost control of the car on the M1 in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

This is the kind of aftermath of an accident that many unfortunate parents have to endure when their children test cars to their limit and forget to consider other road users.

But why this phenomenon among the young?

Young people, generally, are bad drivers. They are careless and often yearn for that high that goes with an adrenalin rush.

They like showing off. The I-am-cock- of-the-roost attitude is often reinforced by fast, expensive cars, fashionable clothes, lots of boozing and speeding.

Insurance companies have woken up to this scourge affecting our lives - thought to be second only to crime.

Short-term insurer Auto and General has decided to increase premiums for young drivers.

According to director Angelo Haggiyannes, drivers below the age of 25 are considered a high risk, so they have to pay higher premiums.

"Statistically, we know that this age group is more accident prone than other age groups," Haggiyannes says.

"They are more often on the road and more often out at night. Often the consequences are too ghastly to contemplate."

He says his company has started to turn down insurance applications for fast cars driven by young people.

On the other hand, Hollard insurance says there are hundreds of thousands of people on our roads who are not supposed to be driving at all.

"There is a loophole in our law that allows people to drive cars without their having the basic skills to do so," says Hollard general manager Edmund Chihambakwe.

Two months ago the insurer decided to refuse insurance to C1 (previously known as Code 10) licenced drivers.

The reason?

Chihambakwe says people who are incapable of passing the more difficult Code B driving licence - or want to save driving instruction fees - choose the C1 because it is 75 percent easier to pass.

In practice, he says, this means driving schools are teaching people the minimum skills to pass the easier C1 test rather than teaching them how to drive cars.

Chihambakwe explains how this absurd situation arose.

"The licencing system was set up when it was assumed that a person who wanted to drive a truck or bus would already have a car licence," Chihambakwe says.

"The C1 virtually only tests one's ability to change gears, drive forward and straight back in a heavier vehicle."

The trend is that young drivers go for the easier driver's licence without having the basic skills for driving a car.

That, coupled with fast cars, fatigue as a result of a lack of sleep and reckless driving, has resulted in insurance companies being cautious about who and what type of cars they insure.

Most parents have to put up with the nightmare of young reckless driver out at night.

Desiree Makoma, 47, has a 22-year-old daughter whose boyfriend always picks her up in his sleek German sedan when they go out on dates and to endless parties.

"She is my child and I worry every time he comes around to pick her up, especially at night," Makoma says.

"I thank God every time she returns home safely, especially considering the amount of alcohol that is consumed at these parties."

Another 26-year-old driver, who wants to remain anonymous, admits he has already smashed two cars. Both times when he was driving home with friends in the early morning hours after a night out.

"I smashed my car and now have to pay an extra R15000 for insurance, which I do not have," he says.

He and his friends are lucky to be alive after the two accidents - both instances of reckless driving.

Car sales data show that South Africa is getting an ever increasing number of new motorists on the roads every year.

According to the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa, an additional 426000 cars arrived on our roads last year, compared with 376 000 in 2005.

Not only are car sales up, but so are road fatalities - and ever more youngsters drive and own these cars.

We have one of the highest vehicle road fatalities incidences in the world; fatalities that sadly also involve innocent road users.

Johannesburg metro police road safety officer Obed Sibasa, however, says overloading is one of the main causes of road accidents.

"It leads to burst tyres and the driver being unable to control the car or brake immediately," Sibasa says.

He says fatal accidents usually happen in the early hours of the morning because of fatigue.

This is the time, says Sibasa, when most people drive home from parties and other functions.