We lead by example and we learn by example. Like with most other activities, this has a marked effect on the way you drive. In a developed country, it would be unusual if you could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times you see a police or traffic officer not wearing a seatbelt, or driving in a lawless fashion.
In South Africa, a country with a staggering road fatality rate, one would think this would be doubly important. Allow me to relate the offences I have recently seen committed by such drivers. I live on a one-way street. I have seen two police bakkies travelling down it the wrong way in the past few days. Neither had lights or sirens on, which is a prerequisite for any official vehicle needing to disobey traffic laws for official reasons. So, I can therefore only assume that they were abusing their official status and marked cars because they were too lazy to go round the block.
On the freeway recently, sitting at the 80km/h limit through the SANRAL roadworks in Johannesburg, I was passed by a Metro Police vehicle doing at least 140km/h, possibly more; this on a wet road, with neither occupant wearing a seatbelt and no lights or sirens in evidence. And yesterday evening, while going to the shops, I was passed by a police van travelling far in excess of the 60km/h limit. As he approached a red traffic light up ahead, he put his hazard lights on and proceeded at unabated speed, as he did with the next red robot. He then turned off and parked at a local garage. He wasn’t on his way to an emergency or crime scene, he was just abusing his official privilege.
Is this the best we are prepared to accept from people who should be at the forefront of promoting safer road use? And are we to follow their example? Should we all drive like the SAPS and the Metro Police? Perhaps the real road safety problem in South Africa is that, having been conditioned by these examples over the years, we have already adopted these driving habits. That would mean that, far from being part of the solution, the very people we should be looking up to for guidance in road safety are part of the problem.
I cannot conceive of such a situation being permitted in any developed country, and I call upon road users in South Africa to rebel against it happening here. Look at your own driving habits and ask how much you do behind the wheel stems directly from the “...if-they-can-do-it-so-can-I...” attitude. The answer might be disconcerting.
Rob Handfield-Jones has spent 20 years indulging his three passions: vehicles, road safety and writing. He heads up driving.co.za, a company which offers training in economical and safe driving.
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