Law abiding citizens?

After a tumultuous first few months of 2012, our beloved world of transport and motoring certainly no exception, I have to ask: does the law not mean anything any more?

The extent to which we rely on transport is amazing, yet we all take it for granted. Commuters go everywhere by car, taxi or bus. Anything and everything we buy is, or once was, transported by road. From my side, it doesn’t matter if it’s micro cars or mammoth trucks, tinkering with them or driving them on that perfect stretch of road … you name it, I love it.

But commuting through our metropolitan areas on a daily basis opens one’s eyes to a grim reality.

More than ever, people are being strangled by increasing financial pressure. Yet every year,  contrary to said financial pressure, there seem to be increasing numbers of commuters on our roads. And, perhaps as a result of this, tempers flare higher and wilder, while disregard for the law abounds. What on earth is going on?

It’s impossible to single out one example of lawlessness here. On page 65 Jaco de Klerk delves into our minibus taxi industry, explaining that it really isn’t as bad as we all perceive. And sure, the idea of one rotten apple ruining the whole basket applies. But the rotten apple that purposely runs over a pedestrian who nonchalantly crosses in front of him, then gets out and kicks him to the ground before turning back to his vehicle (all the while shouting at his passengers to get back inside) will immediately turn that whole basket to apple cider vinegar.

This incident made it to YouTube in February and, with the general middle-finger-in-the-air attitude to fellow road users, safety and the law – not to be confused with the similar signal for “Joburg central” – I’ll bet plenty more commuters have a similar story to tell. More than one comment surrounding the story included the phrase “my 9 mm” – not that taking the law into one’s own hands is the answer. Is the taxi industry a monster under its own, lawless control?

What about trucks? Driving back to the office the other day from an out-of-town interview (in and out of a thunderstorm),  I found myself behind a truck for some distance. Nothing unusual, except this one was crabbing along on a 100 km/h single carriageway at a mere 40-odd km/h. It had odd tyres on each end of its rear axle, and spewed into my path some of the thickest black smoke I’ve ever seen exit an exhaust pipe. By the time I managed to pass I had a thin film of soot covering the front of my car.

This isn’t even the first such vehicle I’ve seen trolling our roads. In most cases it’s a well-meaning owner-driver’s only means of income, but these vehicles should be confiscated and destroyed. A perfect example is the Toyota Hilux the Northern Cape Chief of Licensing, Moses Alfonse, stumbled upon a few months back. Dubbed “the most unroadworthy vehicle in South Africa”, it was confiscated and permanently impounded. This is how we should be naming and shaming. It’s time to get ruthless.

Without ruthless enforcement, any traffic law means nothing. And sitting between a bush and a camera all day is not law-enforcement; I’m talking regular roadblocks on major routes – not just during festive seasons – manned by officers who care enough not to take bribes. Disrupt the traffic, make people late, it’s fine – just get the rubbish off our roads.

Amongst this selection of lawlessness from this first quarter of the year lies something that made me smile from ear to ear. In March, seventy-nine year old Capetonian Hazel Souma was honoured by Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele for her exemplary record of 62 years of blemish-free driving. Not one insurance claim, not one ticket.

One reason for her enviable record: she “learned the rules and stuck to them.” Finally – a law-abiding citizen! Well done, Hazel. Good on you!

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