When we get behind the wheel of a car, we undertake a massive responsibility - not just to our own wellbeing, but the wellbeing of everybody else in the car with us, and everybody around us.
The onus is on you, the driver, to operate that motor vehicle correctly and safely. Sadly enough, many deadly car crashes and accidents could have been avoided entirely, because almost all of them can be attributed to human error.
Most of us drive recklessly, negligently, arrogantly, distracted and with little regard for the safety of anybody else sharing that road with us. Because of this, we see year-on-year increases in deadly road accidents, all across South Africa. This may seem a stretch, but statistics are there to prove that if you make the choice to drive intoxicated, you do not value the lives of other people around you. If you make the choice to text while driving, you do not value the lives of the people around you. These are choices that we make, knowing the potential consequences and repercussions full well, long before making them.
We knowingly make choices that put ourselves and other people in danger.
It seems as if whenever we're driving to work, or driving back home, or picking the kids up from school, there's a twisted heap of metal beside the road somewhere, only vaguely resembling somebody's car. So, why do we drive this way? What causes these accidents and crashes, and more importantly, how can we change and do our part to prevent them?
'But the minibis taxi...'
We hear you, and everybody knows that these vehicles - often unroadworthy, flouting the laws of the road at breackneck speed - are a massive scourge. Everybody knows that they are a complete danger to everything around them, and that there isn't nearly enough being done about it. The uncomfortable fact remains, though, that the rate of horrific road fatalities and crashes would still be astronomically high, even if you removed all taxis from the picture. In 2018, 34 minibus taxis were involved in fatal accidents.
We are not responsible for what other people do on the road, only what we do ourselves. Easter is Carmageddon. Christmas is the Thunderdome. Weekends are an extended GTA cutscene. And most of it is all our fault.
These are the top five biggest reasons why car crashes and accidents happen.
Most car crashes and accidents can be attributed to one sole cause - human error - and there is no greater example of human error in action than distracted driving. This could be due to a variety of reasons, from eating and drinking, to applying make-up, to children jumping around in the backseat, to arguing with a passenger. The biggest problem? Playing with your phone.
The use of a cell phone while driving is considered the leading cause of road accidents in South Africa, responsible for as much as a full quarter. Over 1.25 million people die each year due to road traffic crashes, and up to 50 million more suffer from non-fatal injuries.
The World Health Organisation has found that drivers who use mobile phones while driving are around four times more likely to be involved in car wrecks than drivers who don't. Whether it be for texting, talking or using your GPS, all uses of a mobile phone while driving is considered incredibly dangerous, and according to a road safety report by the International Transport Forum last year, 75% of all motorists admitted to using their phone while driving.
Say for instance you spend 60 seconds using your phone. If you’re driving at 60km/h, this is equal to driving completely ‘blind’ for one kilometre. Spend a little time on the autobahn that is the N1 highway and you’ll know – people drive a lot faster than that, and most of them aren’t even looking up.
It’s an absolute epidemic.
According to the South African Police Service, your blood may not have an alcohol content of more than 0.05%. For many people, this means that one beer could already put them over the limit. For those who have an unreasonably high tolerance to alcohol, such as the people living in the West Rand, it depends on a number of factors.
1l Klipdrift, 2l Coke, 3l Cortina – as the Randfontein saying goes.
First and foremost, South Africans have adopted the wrong attitude toward this. We gauge our ability to drive drunk based on how much we’ve had to drink, what we’ve had to drink and our supposed tolerance levels to alcohol when we should be saying; one drink is one too many. We have Uber now, and there's just no good reason to get behind the wheel when we're drunk.
Alcohol, after all, impairs your driving and rational decision-making abilities. We may feel more relaxed, and therefore may become drowsy and doze off, doing 120km/h down Witkoppen. Or, we may feel invincible, and decide it's a great idea to take that corner without braking, or fly through that red light.
Alcohol slows eye muscle function and alters eye movement and visual perception. Our reflexes slow down, reducing our reaction time. Poor eye/hand/foot coordination follows. It decreases your positioning ability and hinders the ability to make rational decisions.
We’ve all made appalling decisions while drunk. Why would you want to make them behind the wheel of a car?
Drive like lightning, crash like thunder. That’s something which has been drilled into us since childhood. Speed kills. It may sound like a cliché, but speeding has, and always will be, one of the leading causes of accidents on the road.
The idea behind a speed limit is pretty simple, and perfectly reasonable, and it's there for a very good reason.
Speed drastically reduces the time available to stop or avoid a collision, as well as extending the distance your vehicle travels while you react. You see now, how that window for survival grows smaller and smaller the faster you drive. The chance of you avoiding a high-speed crash is slim, if not at all.
And most importantly, of course, speed also increases the severity of a crash once it occurs, and our bodies just aren't designed to withstand it.
This category has less to do with human error, and far more to do with being a complete imbecile.
Drivers who speed, change lanes too quickly (shooting a gap) or tailgate cause an alarming amount of fatal car accidents every year, and for no good reason at all. You know these people; the impatient, aggressive type, often spotted with a popped collar wearing their sunglasses on the back of their head. They're probably driving a BMW or a Golf.
They sit right on your bumper all the way down the highway, flashing their lights and giving you the middle finger. There’s no actual emergency – they’re just allowing their ego to do the driving. They run red lights and stop signs without looking and end up T-boning an Uno in the middle of the intersection. They perform unsafe lane changes without checking their blind spots or using their indicators, brake sporadically, make illegal turns and can somehow burn through four gears with the car standing still, wheels screechng. Some even overtake on a blind rise or in the face of oncoming traffic.
The old folk like to say that it is one thing being aware of what you are doing. but in the end, it's the other people on the road you really need to worry about.
If only it were that simple. Constant vigilance is required when operating 1800kg of high-speed metal, and a whole lot of patience.
While inexperienced drivers, poorly maintained vehicles, poorly maintained roads, bad weather and heavy winds certainly pose a problem, the fifth most common cause of accidents and car crashes is, surprisingly, pedestrians. Drivers have almost no control over this element, and it's frightening.
In 2017, 5410 of the 14 071 fatalities recorded were pedestrians, compared to 3601 drivers and 4608 passengers. Pedestrians often take chances, dashing across busy roads where they shouldn’t, and they seldom make the effort to make themselves more visible to drivers, especially at night.
These are the main factors involved when it comes to pedestrian fatalities on the road. Others include texting-and-walking (distracted walking), lack of children supervision (children who run into the road) and drunkards falling out into the road in front of cars.
Traffic fines seem to be geared toward the motorist having to take responsibility for the pedestrian, but the latter also needs to be held more accountable. The road is a dangerous place, and every time you wander out into the middle of it, you’re taking a risk.
Left, right and left again is something that we’ve forgotten how to use.
Don’t be an idiot, and you'll arrive alive.
Being proactive is far more beneficial than being reactive. Inspect your vehicle for problems before leaving the house. Leave your Facebook alone while you’re driving. Map your GPS routes before you begin your journey. Focus on what you’re doing. Focus on what other drivers are doing. Be courteous and respectful. Do not drink or do drugs before or during your journey. Wear your safety belt. Stay below the speed limits. Keep a safe following distance – at the very least one car’s length. Be aware of your surroundings. Use your indicators. Check your blind spots. Check before crossing the road. Get adequate insurance.
There's always that one person at a party that ruins it for everybody. In South Africa, that person is the drunk driver, the reckless driver, the lawless heathen of a driver, the arrogant driver, the distracted driver and the impatient driver.
The drunk. The reckless. The lawless. The arrogant. The distracted. The impatient.
Don't feel bad – we've all fallen into one of these categories at one time or another – but if you're one of those people who frequently flouts the rules of the road and drives like a brainless troglodyte – then I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you're that person at the party who pukes in the washing machine.
You're the person at the party who arrives without bringing anything, bums cigarettes off of other people all night, and then kills somebody.
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