I now know why so many thousands of South African pedestrians are killed on our roads every year.
They walk on the wrong side of the road. When I was at school, Rule Number One of road safety – and this was instilled in us from pre-primary days – was that, if you were walking, then you did so facing the traffic. In other words, on the right-hand side of the road.
That way, if a car heading towards you did anything untoward, you would at least see it coming and have the opportunity to take evasive action. If you are walking on the left-hand side of the road, you are going the same way as the vehicles and won’t see if one of them is out of control and about to take you out … or, more likely given the attention shown by the average South African driver, doesn’t see you.
It’s a principle I have to force myself to apply when I am in a country where people drive on the right. Breaking that habit is not easy, but the mere process of doing so makes you more aware. Another thing is the irony that the increase in “high visibility” vests being worn is that it is not being done by pedestrians at night – it is being done by car guards and all manner of officials, or those who would like to pretend they are.
Many ordinary people, when they walk at night – often on the left hand side of the road – seem to love wearing dark clothing. So, clearly, our schooling system is failing millions of people when it comes to road safety. It would seem that when the subject is addressed in the curriculum, it is apparently only done so later, in high school, when pupils are getting ready to get their driving licences.
The total lack of road safety and usage awareness quickly makes itself known when people start the K53 driving test process and find they haven’t a clue. So, out comes the bribe money or the payment for a false licence.
No surprise, then, that as many as one in two driver’s licences on our roads is not valid. It’s been said before but is worth repeating: millions of people have been armed with a deadly weapon and are not competent to handle it. So I was somewhat amused by the Automobile Association (AA) that last week held a press event showcasing all the “autonomous safety devices” available on cars these days.
These range from lane keeping warnings to automatic braking and are not just found in top-of-the-line cars. Undoubtedly, these devices have the ability to save lives. But the most important piece of safety equipment in any car is still the trained human brain. If you know what you are doing, especially with regards to defensive driving, the chances that you will trigger any of these safety aids will be slim.
And I do worry that drivers whose cars are fitted with such devices could let down their guard. If you know how to “read” the road, you will see the vast majority of situations developing before they become a danger to you.
Ironically, a lot of that danger will be from vehicles driven by untrained drivers.
Wouldn’t it be nice if Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi pursued road safety rather than “racist” Afrikaans schools?