With South African motorists’ increasing disrespect for the law comes an apparent preference for certain colours, but this can also mean the difference between life and death.
Like most of Johannesburg’s highways, the M1, which runs north-south through the middle of the city, does not seem to cope with peak-time traffic. I generally travel across one of two different overpasses to and from work each day and I feel nothing but pity for the poor sods I see crammed sardine-like in either direction, with nowhere to go but inch-by-inch forward … Especially when they’re passed by holier-than-thou motorists who probably think that, because yellow is their favourite colour, it is okay for them to shoot down the emergency lane.
I see it every day, so I can only imagine that a large portion of motorists like yellow … On my way home from work a few weeks ago, in traffic on the overpass, I was pleased to see some minibus taxi drivers that must’ve quite liked blue as well – what with the flashing lights behind them and gentlemen decked out in blue and beige giving what was, hopefully, a stern talking to.
(For those unaccustomed to Joburg law enforcement, the blue shirt and beige pants is the uniform of our Johannesburg Metro Police Department.)
This pleased me – a lot. As it must’ve someone from Netcare 911, as I received a press release but a few days later detailing the importance of not using the emergency lane and/or blocking an emergency vehicle’s path.
The document quotes Shalen Ramduth, GM of inland and aeromedical operations at Netcare 911: “The yellow lane is there for emergency vehicles only. It is illegal to utilise the emergency lane for anything other than an emergency or a breakdown,” he says. “We often find that once we have cleared the backlog in the emergency lane, the same culprits who blocked the lane will pull out behind the emergency vehicle and follow it.” One can only guess that these people have a moth-like attraction to the flashing red lights atop the company’s vehicles …
“Clearing the backlog”, as Ramduth puts it, is another problem faced by the emergency services. Says Neill Visser, Netcare 911 regional operations manager for Gauteng West: “Some drivers will try and ‘clear’ the way for us, but put their own lives at risk in doing so. Others are too bewildered and freeze because they do not know what to do, subsequently blocking our path.
“Other road users are completely oblivious of the approaching lights and sirens of an emergency vehicle, because the music in their vehicles is too loud or they are simply not paying attention. Arrogant drivers who refuse to move out of the way are also the order of the day. It places us in the difficult position of having to try and weave in and out of traffic in an attempt to move around a vehicle.”
So, what should you do if an emergency vehicle approaches? First, keep an eye on your rear-view mirrors for the flashing lights (you should see them before you hear the sirens). When the vehicle gets to you, look at the driver to see where he wants to go, thereby guiding you. Move left so the vehicle can pass you on your right, or at least to the edge of your lane to make as much room as possible. Never tailgate an emergency vehicle as it could decelerate or stop at any time and, please, do not use the emergency lane if traffic is backed up.
Visser sums it up perfectly: “The next time you see an emergency vehicle fighting its way through traffic, ask yourself: How long can you hold your breath? What if the victim they need to get to is someone you know? This applies whether it is the police going to a robbery or a major accident scene, or ambulances attending to a medical emergency. Always consider that lives can be at stake and every second could mean the difference between life and death.”