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Transport: a murderous business

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I only started becoming scared of driving about two or three years ago. Before then, I was confident that my lifetime of training and experience in defensive driving would keep me safe.

One of the biggest problems is the random element which has crept into road use in South Africa. People drive randomly and erratically like never before.

They perform manoeuvres that are often nigh impossible to anticipate, at speeds which leave little scope for avoidance. Road conditions are equally random. Dodging potholes is one thing, but trying to work out exactly where one should be on a roadway whose lines have long since faded is another again.

Another scary thing is how random vehicle maintenance has become. Tired shocks, blown light bulbs and tyres worn to the canvas used to be unusual and worthy of comment. Nowadays, anything goes. There is, however, a limit to the amount of damage an unroadworthy or poorly driven light motor vehicle can do. This brings me to the scariest thing of all: heavy commercial vehicles (HCVs), where the potential for carnage is immense. I’ve been to a few ‘truck stop’ events where random samples of HCVs are put through police scrutiny, with massive percentages failing and being issued discontinuation of service notices. I’ve seen the cracked chassis beams, flapping retreads, missing brake shoes and air tanks slopping with rust-coloured water from internal corrosion.

The people who drive these vehicles are inadequately trained for the most part, and insecure in their jobs, knowing they could be replaced at the drop of a hat if they refuse to drive some clattering rotbox. In HCVs that are fitted with seatbelts, barely 20% of occupants wear them, and the mechanics who sign death traps off for use on public roads are deserving only of contempt. Those transport bosses whose vehicles cause road carnage are murderers-by-proxy for either failing to enforce high standards or encouraging shortcuts in the stampede after profit. And the Department of Transport (DoT) is the ringmaster: their socalled professional driving permit (PrDP) is an insult to the words ‘professional’ and ‘driving’ and, unlike overseas, there is an almost total lack of proper investigation into fatal HCV accidents or ruthless enforcement of the standards required.

The transport industry and DoT are kneedeep in the blood of every South African motorist ever killed by HCV ‘brake failure’, ‘steering failure’, ‘driver fatigue’ or one of the many other HCV ‘failures’ which aren’t actually failures at all, but rather the predictable results of pervasive – and sometimes deliberate – mismanagement and ignorance. How many more innocent motorists must be burned or crushed to death, or tourists mangled in mountainside bus rollovers, before the tide turns on the murderous safety record of our heavy transport industry?


Rob Handfield-Jones has spent 20 years indulging his three passions: vehicles, road safety and writing. He heads up, a company which offers training in economical and safe driving.


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