Drivers licence to slaughter

A few years ago I was driven from Aachen to Bonn in Germany, in a new Daimler-Benz. On the autobahn, I could not but notice that the speedometer was flicking between 190 and 200km/h.

But when the driver off-ramped on to secondary roads he followed the traffic signs religiously, respecting every traffic law.

The autobahns have no speed limit. When I entered the car he told me exactly how to behave. He then told me that car accidents were very rare in Germany. Why?

To qualify for a driver's licence you must demonstrate beyond any shadow of doubt to the traffic inspectorate that not only do you know the traffic legislation but you can drive the vehicle with confidence. The driver was in total control of the car and not the other way round. I even dozed off.

To try to bribe traffic officers is a serious offence that can land you in jail or lead to the suspension of your driver's licence. The penalties for breaking traffic laws are very severe.

In contrast, South African roads slaughter more than 14000 people every year. That number is growing. The casualties include school children, drunk pedestrians, holidaymakers, taxi passengers, trucks ferrying labourers, inexperienced and drunk drivers. Law-abiding citizens are victims of the carnage on our roads.

These unnecessary fatalities are caused by, among other things, the absence of pedestrian crossings, lack of understanding of traffic laws, unsafe and poorly serviced vehicles, overloaded taxis and so on.

There are genuine crashes that are beyond the driver's control. A case in point was when my official vehicle was involved in a freak crash in 2007 in which I fractured my arm. My experienced driver did everything he could to avoid the crash.

The offending driver simply drove directly into our car. We later learnt the poor offender was an epileptic.

There are roads in our country that have become human abattoirs because of the frequency of road accidents. The Moloto Road (R573 from Tshwane to Marble Hall in Limpopo) is but one example.

With few exceptions, the road casualties are black and poor. This makes the issue of road carnage even more tragic.

Ministers of transport have threatened to implement the demerit system over several years. Little has happened.

Taxi associations are virtually a law unto themselves and nobody seems to have enough guts to call them to order.

These associations are also involved in violent clashes and other forms of criminal activities.

Bribery is now so entrenched that you have "licensed" drivers who are poorly trained and therefore pose a threat to the safety of other road users.

There are other culprits who contribute to road fatalities with impunity. These are in the main owners of cattle and other livestock.

In Mpumalanga you always know whether you are near white-owned farms or black villages. On white-owned properties, cows, goats, sheep and pigs are safely fenced in. Car owners can drive with peace of mind.

In contrast, roads in and around Driekoppies, kaMhlushwa and Schoemansdal are safety hazards. Cattle, goats and pigs roam all over the roads unprotected.

When I asked a traffic officer why they were allowing cattle to roam around unattended he simply said "my job is only to ensure the traffic flows smoothly".

Scores of people are killed or maimed by stray beasts that should be kept in check by their owners.

It is frightening that this traffic officer didn't make the link between managing these animals and making sure traffic flows.

The beneficiaries of the unrelenting slaughter on our roads are the companies that sell funeral insurance. The numerous deaths on our roads retard our economic growth and affect tourism.

What the country needs is a national campaign to confront this scourge and motivate the people of SA to stand together against road carnage.

The government must charge all those who endanger drivers' or passengers' lives by failure to keep their animals away from public roads. The owners should be severely punished.

The tribal authorities, local councillors, SAPS and the community must take a firm stand in this matter. If a driver collides with a cow, the owner must be liable for restitution or imprisonment.

I agree with those who say all of us must take collective responsibility for the thousands of deaths occurring on our roads. Each one of us can make a difference. Together we will make SA a safer tourism destination.

The apartheid regime attached little value to black life. What stops us from changing that unfortunate mindset? The SAPS has specialised units to deal with certain prevalent crimes including rape, drug dealing, and housebreaking.

Why can't we have a special unit to investigate the irresponsible and criminal behaviour that results in road fatalities?

lMkhatshwa is chairman of the Moral Regeneration Movement