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A question of culture?

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The Free State: where the roads are bad and the drivers (mostly) worse.The annual Nampo Harvest Day is an event that I tend to look forward to immensely. This year we had scary near miss en route, though.

As I write this, I’m en route to the ever-exciting Nampo Harvest Day (read about it on page 22) in the hot and sunny Free State. We’ve just had breakfast in Parys.

Anyone who’s made the journey will know that that’s probably not the best idea. While it’s smooth freeway sailing to that point, the road between Parys and the Nampo show ground in Bothaville (about 100 km) is rough enough to make you - involuntarily - enjoy your breakfast twice over.

Normally, my stomach is strong enough to, well, stomach that. This year, though, it was a problem. Not because the road is any worse (happily, they are rejuvenating a particularly bad section just outside Parys), but because we were very nearly involved in what could have been a rather nasty crash.

Finding ourselves behind a dawdling old Mercedes (which I will call dom, for short), our driver decided to take advantage of the relatively smooth section we were on and go for an overtake.

Not a particularly risky manoeuvre – most vehicles ahead of us had done the same thing – except that dom saw this as the perfect time to pick up a bit of speed and wander across the broken white line – squeezing us over to the very edge of the on-coming lane.

“Hey-hey-hey!” our driver shouted. I looked in the passenger-side mirror and have never before seen two vehicles come so close without touching.

Thankfully, we got through without incident (other than trying desperately to keep breakfast down while calming our nerves). The whole thing got me thinking about how our behaviour is dictated by our culture.

I’ve written about this topic numerous times from a local perspective, and many advanced-driving and road-safety experts continuously assert that South African drivers need a change of culture. We are largely acknowledged to be too arrogant, aggressive and impatient when on the road. In fact, this applies largely to all road users – even pedestrians.

Nonetheless, yesterday I happened to watch a video about a German ambulance that had to get through a gridlocked freeway to an accident. From the in-vehicle camera, it was amazing to see drivers – up to probably 100 m away – who had very little room to manoeuvre, pulling out of the way with a real sense of selflessness and urgency to create an almost perfect path down the middle, so that the ambulance could get through as quickly as possible.

(If you haven’t seen the clip, make sure to check it out on the FOCUS YouTube channel!)

This thought flashed through my mind as I saw the rear left corner of our vehicle just make it past dom as he pulled out of his lane. Had the unthinkable happened and he had clipped us, would we have been as lucky to have emergency services get to us with minimal delay?

I’m not sure, but I hope that the next time we head off to Nampo dom will be nowhere in the general Free State area ...

 

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