The role of legislation and its enforcement in road safety
It’s an undeniable fact that South Africa has one of the worst road safety records in the world and is second only to Nigeria in road deaths on the African continent. There are a multitude of reasons that this is so, but the most glaringly obvious cause of this is the rampant corruption that exists in driver licensing and traffic law enforcement. After all, how can it be reasonably expected that people who have bought their driving licences could possibly be adequately qualified to drive, let alone obey traffic laws? Additionally, how can it be reasonably expected that those who do disobey the law will change their behaviour if they know that all they have to do if they are caught violating traffic laws is bribe a traffic cop or policeman and then carry on as if nothing has happened?
Add to these factors the fact that traffic law enforcement is rarely practiced properly and ethically anywhere in South Africa and you have a recipe for disaster.
Sadly, there is and never can be a silver bullet to improving road safety but it is arguable that part of the solution lies in improving driver skills and eradicating corruption. The current K53 driving standard incorporated in basic driver training and testing sadly does not prepare drivers for the very serious and life-threatening risks associated with driving, more especially when learner drivers are not taught the proper defensive driving techniques that K53 is supposed to promote. There is no requirement for learner drivers to undergo any formal training and more often than not, they are taught to drive by the very drivers on our roads who already present a problem.
Road traffic legislation is sometimes drafted with road safety in mind, but unfortunately it has become customary for it to be drafted with a view to increasing revenues for traffic law enforcement authorities and the local and provincial authorities which enforce it. In addition, widespread corruption in traffic law enforcement has an adverse effect on road safety. Motorists are generally sitting ducks to the prolific traps and snares contained in the National Road Traffic Act and Regulations as well as to unethical and corrupt cops who use the ignorance of motorists in conjunction with threats of arrest and other forms of extortion to extract bribes from them.
This is most unfortunate and is part of the reason why JPSA introduced its Priority Assist service for its members in 2012. Since introducing this service, JPSA has successfully defused hundreds of potentially explosive traffic stops and prevented members from being convinced that the only course of action to prevent an undesirable outcome would be to pay a bribe.
When all is said and done, way too much lip service is paid to road safety in South Africa and way too little is done to promote it. Until such time as this paradigm changes, South Africa will continue to see catastrophically high road death and injury counts, with no realistic hope to diminish it.