More than a thousand people have died on South African roads since December. The state of road safety in this country is horrendous (SA was recently ranked as the worst of 36 countries in a road safety report). There are many reasons for this, including drinking, corruption, speeding, a general culture that thinks breaking traffic laws is acceptable, and the fact that the country does not even have a road safety plan. I don’t think anyone is free from guilt in this. Let’s consider speeding for a start.
Everybody does it
Speeding seems to be like movie piracy: Everybody knows it’s against the rules, but everybody does it. I have good friends, Christians, who are law abiding in most other respects, whose only regret when they get a speeding fine is that they got caught. This says to me that there is something seriously wrong with South African road culture. Speeding is a serious issue. It leads to the deaths of so many people. I am sure that my friends (and most other people who speed) think they are doing no harm since they are careful and only speed when it is safe, and they never go “too fast.” The problem with this is, of course, that even though a couple of people may be right about this, most probably are not. They are merely overconfident. You don’t cause a horrific traffic accident until you do, and then it’s too late. Until then you are merely lucky.
I am actually somewhat appalled by services that tell you where speed cameras are, and which others seem to have no qualms in using. If I were the government I would make GPSs and sites that provide information on speed cameras illegal. You would only ever need that information if you were planning to speed. If you speed you deserve to be fined and to use these services is an attempt to circumvent the law.
No matter how good a driver you are: your reaction time does not increase at higher speeds and it takes longer to brake. If a pedestrian runs in front of you and you are unable to stop because you are speeding, it’s your fault, because the speed limit is there to prevent this occurrence. I know that some people are better drivers than others, but it is impractical to have different speed limits for different people. You cannot be trusted to be the judge of your own limit. Sorry! You have to obey the limit on the sign – it’s there for a reason.
Two prominent South African citizens, an Afrikaans singer (Steve Hofmeyr) and a black political party leader (Julius Malema) were recently caught speeding. These are role models many people in South Africa. I shudder to think of the harm they cause by their example (Hofmeyr has at least admitted he was irresponsible). I often drive at the speed limit and find that cars overtake me, or that astoundingly arrogant drivers flash their headlights, indicating that they want me to move over the left so they can speed by. Once a police car did this (its sirens were off) – if even the police disregard traffic rules….
It is clear to me that a massive change in South African culture as regards speeding (and road safety in general) is needed. I don’t know what will work. Massive campaigns to reduce drunk driving have (it seems to me) have limited effect, though most people would sooner speed than drink and drive. I do not know what will change this attitude. I am very doubtful that appealing to people’s consciences will work, or even to their sense of safety (people are willing to take the risk, it seems, of both fines and death, much like smokers). Perhaps the only solution is better enforcement and that is as unlikely to happen.
I do not claim to be a model driver. I break some traffic laws all the time and I have even, on occasion, speeded (mostly through not paying attention to my speed). But despite my own faults and the futility of it, I will appeal to your conscience. If you are, for instance, a Christian and you regularly speed, ask yourself whether what you are doing is in keeping with your faith. If you think you are responsible when you speed, think again. If you haven’t thought about your speeding at all, think about it now. Can you continue to justify yourself?