When I asked a few people in a shopping mall whether they thought South Africans were bad drivers or not, an overwhelming majority of them replied that they believed that South Africans, in general, were bad drivers. Interestingly enough, when I pointedly asked them if they considered themselves a good or a bad driver, they all glowingly gushed that they were great drivers. Uhm… but then where are all these bad drivers, if everyone considers themselves to be so good? I guess therein lies the problem on our roads; that road users are not prepared to take responsibility for their bad habits, ill discipline and traffic transgressions. How will we reduce the number of crashes and, ultimately, fatalities on our roads if no one is willing to be accountable?
Comparatively speaking, South Africans aren’t the worst drivers in the world, but we’re high up on that list (hovering around 65 depending on what list you’re looking at), considering that in 2015 we topped the list of most drunk drivers in the world! In 2017, deaths on our roads totaled 14 000, and almost the same number of lives were lost the previous year. Over the last decade, 134 000 lives have been lost on our roads. Unfortunately, we’ve become desensitised to these numbers, because we almost expect to hear these shocking stats broadcast in the news after every long weekend or school holiday. The question I then posed to the Automobile Association of South Africa (AA) and to various other people, including a psychologist, was “what is it about South African drivers that make us so dangerous?” The common theme in all the answers was that it is our temperament on the roads. It is our lack of patience and consideration for other road users, and not recognising that the roads are a communal space for all. That ultimately contributes to crashes and deaths. There’s also a dangerous combination of having a false sense of security and an air of invincibility that drivers have when they get behind the wheel.
I know you’re probably thinking that most of the culprits are taxi drivers, right? Well, you would be wrong!
I know you’re probably thinking that most of the culprits are taxi drivers, right? Well, you would be wrong! Did you know that taxis only contribute to an overall 12% of road crashes? I was surprised too! What skews it though, is that there may be fewer taxi crashes, but because they carry so many passengers, more people’s lives are at risk when an accident does occur. Which leaves us with the sobering realisation that it is us, you and I, that are the bad and reckless drivers, since private vehicles, sedans and SUVs are the ones involved in, or causing the accidents we see on our highways and byways.
I was curious to find out from Wayne Minnaar, spokesperson for the Johannesburg Metro Police Department, what he thinks needs to happen to improve driver behaviour, and change the driving culture in South Africa for the better. Mr. Minnaar said that, since drivers felt that from the law enforcement side, there were no serious repercussions for driving badly, they would continue to do it. People either appeal their fines, pay them or try to bribe their way out of a sticky situation. Minnaar added that the failed Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO) system needed to be reviewed, adjusted and enforced so that drivers would have the real fear and inconvenience of eventually losing their licenses after committing a few traffic violations.
We cannot continue to lament the loss of life on our roads if we ourselves continue to chat on our phones while driving, quickly send a short text while cruising on the highway or insist we’ll be able to make it home after a few glasses of wine. We are the culprits, arrogant enough to think that it’s everyone else’s problem and not ours. Just because you’ve been able to get away with your bad behaviour on the road, doesn’t mean your lucky streak will last. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but have you considered that you’re not as good a driver as you think you are?
Claire Mawisa is a South African television presenter, model and radio personality best known for being an SABC1 continuity presenter (1999-2001), as well as for co-hosting the SABC1 music variety show One, from 2002-2003. After many years working in radio and television, and opening her own business, Claire joined the Carte Blanche team in 2015.
You follow @clairemawisa on Twitter.