Our Obligation on the Road
The holiday season is supposed to bring much cheer, but every year it also produces tragedy on our roads and highways.
The road death toll over last year’s holiday season was 1527. There was little comfort in this representing an 11% drop from the previous year.
This number is the result of a dangerous driving culture, a loose attitude to reckless practices such as driving under the influence of alcohol or using cellphones while in traffic, and careless pedestrian behaviour which is exacerbated by often inadequate safety facilities.
Many otherwise responsible individuals abandon reason once they take charge of a motor vehicle. Not a few imitate the anarchic approach to traffic shown by reckless minibus-taxi drivers and are blind to the reality that their actions behind the wheel have an immediate impact — sometimes literally — on others. Therefore we must also consider the consequences of our decisions on others
As participants in traffic, we must be conscious of our mutual obligations because our safety depends on the actions of others. Therefore we must also consider the consequences of our decisions on others.
It should alarm us that often the deterrent to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs resides is the threat of being caught. Surely the increased risk of causing an accident, perhaps lethal, should inhibit any idea of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Driving in a state of inebriation puts others at risk, even when the driver does not appear to be incapacitated. Whole families are wiped out because a stranger did not know when to stop drinking before taking charge of a vehicle. There can be no justification for this, and there can be no excuse for producing such a risk in the first place.
Likewise, those who drive while talking on a cellphone are a threat to other people, as their attention to traffic is gravely compromised. Even more morally corrupt is to text while driving, an act during which drivers are blind to the traffic around them.
Motor vehicles are potentially lethal instruments, and all we do while in control of them should be predicated on the simple mandate of the fifth commandment —“You shall not kill”— and on the intolerable possibility that our driving decisions might cause injury or death. People who drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and those who text while driving, should be held accountable for their recklessness not only by the law, but also by society.
Few people would consent to other forms of behaviour that put at risk the lives of others. People who drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and those who text while driving, should be held accountable for their recklessness not only by the law, but also by society.
Their behaviours must not be trivialised, as they often are, but seen as violations of social convention: a taboo which, when broken, should be a source of shame for perpetrators.
At the same time, the rules of the road must be properly enforced in ways that place an emphasis on rooting out dangerous driving.
South African motorists frequently complain that the traffic authorities show greater enthusiasm for generating revenue from fines for relatively minor offences than for enforcing traffic rules by pulling over dangerous drivers.
Such complaints are usually accompanied by the suggestion that traffic officers lack visibility on the road while reckless drivers, especially of minibus-taxis, get away with dangerous driving. It is undeniable, however, that these perceptions exist. And they can lead to a breakdown in discipline as motorists claim for themselves the same impunity they see in the behaviour of taxi drivers and other traffic menaces.
Whether or not such observations are true is not for us to say. It is undeniable, however, that these perceptions exist. And they can lead to a breakdown in discipline as motorists claim for themselves the same impunity they see in the behaviour of taxi drivers and other traffic menaces.
The implication is that traffic police should be more visible on the roads than being hidden behind bushes.
The culture of impunity must be rigorously challenged, by reassigning traffic officers manning speed traps on lonely rural byways to roads that urgently require active law enforcement, and through peer-to-peer education. Nevertheless, the primary responsibility for making South African roads safer resides not with law enforcement but with road-users themselves.
Nevertheless, the primary responsibility for making South African roads safer resides not with law enforcement but with road-users themselves.
All of us who participate in traffic must be guided by the principle that the road is a point of communion between people which requires courtesy, decency and prudence in our relations with fellow motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.