Groot Trek

Having loaded up the Ossewa – ‘n tradisionele vervoermiddel, veral in Suidelike Afrika – and all being well… we headed Oop North yesterday, via:

the M3 (for 4.8km), the N2 (1.3km), the M5 (3.6km), the N1 (4.2km), and then onto the N7 for the next 671km.

Eina – quite a ride. For those of you reading in the UK, it’s the equivalent of driving from Sheffield to just past Inverness. And you know that Inverness is a long way from everywhere, so “just past Inverness” is a near inconceivable distance.

Thus, I’m likely to be out of radio range for the foreseeable future, but posts will continue on 6000 miles…. via the seamless magic of WordPress.
As usual, please be aware that if some massive international incident, world war, political upheaval or mass outbreak of beaglitis virus has occurred, I will a) likely not know about it, and b) certainly not be mentioning it on the blog, because, as I am writing this, it hasn’t happened yet.

[EDIT: Actually, after I wrote this, but before we went away, there was some degree of local instability.]

Equally, if I die (or have died), you’ll only know when I don’t blog next Friday. Which will be good.

Good Friday, I mean – not great that I’ve thrown a seven.

Almost 10,000 cellphones confiscated

Cape Town traffic police are closing in on their ten thousandth cellphone confiscation since they began confiscating cellphones in 2012. This isn’t a random thing though: this isn’t a random thing. No, they only take the cellphones off people who are using them while driving. You know, the one who are clearly in contravention of Road Traffic Ordinance Regulation 308A, which prohibits a driver from holding a mobile phone or communication device in one or both hands or with any other part of their body while driving?

Those ones.

“The numbers are staggering and an indication that many motorists still refuse to acknowledge the dangers of using cellular phones while driving. It is astonishing to consider that people will very easily persecute drunk drivers for reckless behaviour, but cannot see the recklessness in fiddling with a cellphone while navigating through traffic,” said mayoral committee member for Safety and Security, JP Smith.

Look, this is Good. News. but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg, as I noted here.

And it seems that, as always, South Africa is high on the list of cellphone naughtiness while at the wheel – as you would expect given the impunity with which we treat traffic and/or any other laws. But it’s not just here that it’s a problem. In the US, the major cellphone companies have joined forces to produce the itcanwait.com campaign, and they’ve released some really good mini-documentaries to get with it:

It would be great if MTN, Vodacom et al. (Al being the only guy who’s still on Cell C) could team up and do something to try and reduce cellphone use while driving.
Although I think we’re still some distance from that tipping point whereby it becomes socially unacceptable to use your phone while at the wheel, I do think that people need something to remind them what tossers they are being, when in every single case – it can wait.

UPDATE: What happens to the over 6000 confiscated phones which haven’t been reclaimed? See this EWN report.

Indicate when turning

A new addition to the signposts on the approach to the Kildare Rd mini traffic circle (traffic mini circle?) in Newlands instructs drivers that it would probably help those around them if they “indicate when turning”.

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Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “But… but I do indicate when I’m turning. I mean… that’s what you do… that’s what they’re there for, isn’t it?”, and you’re right and that’s because you are a sensible driver who is probably not living in South Africa, where mind-reading on the roads is less of a staged fraud and more of a necessity.

But then, the drivers who weren’t going to indicate when turning still won’t indicate when turning, because they don’t look at signs at the side of the road. The only people who look at signs at the side of the road are drivers who were going to indicate when turning anyway.

And so, yes: the “indicate when turning” may seem a little unnecessary to you, but I have a feeling that it’s about to be joined by something even more spectacular. And that’s because sometimes a single sign simply isn’t enough.
And there’s precedent for this just down the road in the Access Park Shopping Complex:

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Yes, please enjoy this screenshot from Google Maps, containing what is still one of the most bizarre traffic signs I have seen in South Africa anywhere. For those of you with utterly appalling eyesight, just under the big red NO ENTRY sign (and just above the words “NO” and “ENTRY” painted 2m high on the road) are the words:

PLEASE OBEY THIS TRAFFIC SIGN

Who is this aimed at, exactly? Most people will not even have considered not obeying the traffic sign in the first place (although maybe now you’ve sown the seeds of mischief). And if the people who weren’t going to obey the traffic sign in the first place weren’t going to obey the traffic sign in the first place, what makes you think they’re going to obey the writing underneath it asking them to obey it? I’m not sure where the logic comes in “Let’s ask them to do as it says, and then they’ll do as it says.”
Or are you expecting some sort of selective disobedience? Has some sort of psychological assessment of the average wrong-way-up-a-one-way-street driver been done? And if so, was this really deduced to be the best policy to halt their errant behaviour?

And you’re asking them nicely too – none of that straightforward “do this” of the “indicate when turning” signage. Manners maketh the man and they apparently maketh the more polite and therefore better adhered to road signage as well.

Personally, I can’t believe it works, but assuming it does, there’s still plenty of room just underneath the “indicate when turning” sign for another, stating: “we’d really appreciate it if you took notice of this request, please”.

And then, when leaving the traffic circle, a “thanks a lot” wouldn’t go amiss either.

Cell use ‘worse than driving drunk’

Interesting quote from Gary Ronald of the AA in the Cape Times this morning:

Driver distraction is probably six times more dangerous than driving drunk. If a driver over the legal alcohol limit of 0.05 already has the potential risk of being involved in a crash 15 times more than a sober person, the context of distraction is even more frightening.

I’m all for any measure that improves road safety in SA. But it worries me that Gary seems to be spouting figures for the sake of figure spouting: “probably six times more dangerous than driving drunk”? Well, maybe it is, but why chuck the word “probably” in?
Does this figure that you are spouting come from any sort of research or did you just make it up? And if it came from some sort of research, what sort of result is “probably six times more dangerous than driving drunk”?
When I do science, I don’t come up with results like that. I either say yes or no. And if I’m ever tempted to stray towards a “probably”, then I go away and I do some more research until I can say yes or no.
That’s how it works.

People see that sort of quote and they think “He’s just made that up, hasn’t he?”.
The obvious next step is not to take what Gary is saying seriously and then what most individuals will do is refute all stats on cellphone usage while driving as being nonsense, which in itself is also nonsense, but that is what will happen.

And it spoils what is a very important message: that using your cellphone while you are driving is a dangerous thing to do.
That’s why it’s illegal.

But then, so is driving without a seatbelt and so is drinking and driving and so is speeding and so is going through a red light.
Sadly, here in SA, there is a real issue with people’s attitudes to obeying rules and a real issue with any sort of law enforcement on the roads.
Every day, I see tens of people driving while using cellphones. There’s the usual two versions of the talkers: one doing 130kph without really looking where he’s going, and the other one who unknowingly slows down to 30kph and may weave slightly.
Then there’s the texters (although it could also be social media or email, of course). There are also two types of them: the ones who hold the phone up right in front of their field of vision, resting it on the top of the steering wheel, and the ones who have it down on their lap, text, look up, look down, text some more, look up, look down, text some more etc etc etc. Each of these four approaches demonstrates a clear lack of concentration on the road around them. Each is dangerous and illegal.

Funny thing is, most of those people would probably baulk at the suggestion that they would ever drive drunk and yet they happily use their phone while on the road, which “is probably six times more dangerous than driving drunk”. Why?
Is it because they don’t know how dangerous it is?
Is it because they know and don’t care?
Is it because they don’t think they’ll get caught?

The spokesman for Cape Town Traffic Services, Kevin Jacobs, said 4 184 drivers in six months had been fined for the unlawful use of a cellphone while driving.

4,200 in 6 months. That’s 700 a month. Or 24 a day. 1 an hour.
In a city with 3,000,000+ inhabitants. It’s a drop in the ocean.

The war on drink driving in SA has proved that it takes a combination of stricter law enforcement and powerful advertising to even begin to get the message across to a public which is used to getting away with breaking rules. For the first time since moving here, I am beginning to notice a shift in attitude amongst my friends when it comes to drink driving. It used to be that they’d know it was wrong, but that they take the chance of getting away with it. Now there’s more of a social stigma attached to it (like in the UK) and there’s more awareness about getting caught and the consequences that come with it, people don’t do it any more.

How long before using your cellphone while driving (which, lest we forget, “is probably six times more dangerous than driving drunk”) generates that same sort of reaction?

A year? Ten years? Never?

Missed by blitz, but…

While I drove all around the city this week, I didn’t pass through a single roadblock in the supposed traffic blitz that was an attempt to rake in the almost R600m that the city drivers owe in fines. We all heard about the roadblocks though. Especially the big finale on the M5 on Friday afternoon, which @capetownfreeway sensibly described as “Congestion”, rather than “Police trying to catch fine dodgers”.

Colour me unimpressed. Although I have never had a traffic fine in my life, how many drivers who did owe didn’t have to pass through a check either?

What has impressed me more, however, is the adoption of the new Cape Town Traffic Bylaw, which means that (amongst other things), repeat offenders will be fined more (and we’re assuming that they will pay up?) and that they may have their cellphones taken from them if they are seen using them at the wheel.

“They can’t do that – it’s illegal!” whine the whiners, but they’re wrong. There’s a long-term precedent for impounding of property – vehicles and animals are good examples.

YES, THEY CAN IMPOUND YOUR CELLPHONE. READ IT AND WEEP, IDIOTS.

Just as you would if your motor vehicle were towed away, you will now need to visit the pound in order to redeem your phone.

“This is obviously not a step we were keen to take,’ says JP Smith, Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security “but the reality is that distracted driving, mainly due to talking or texting on cell phones while driving, is one of the four major causes of death on the road.” The other three are speed, alcohol and not wearing safety belts.

Distracted driving, as it’s known, is a well-known cause of road fatalities; this includes changing radio channels and talking or texting. At the moment, notes Alderman Smith, the fines for these offences are too small to make an impression and there are insufficient traffic enforcement resources to ensure that offences are dealt with often enough to modify offender behaviour.

“We have also created tougher sentences for driving without a safety belt – another big cause of fatalities. Of course a seatbelt doesn’t prevent a crash, but in the event of such an event, it can be the difference between life and death.”

At last. I hope, as Alderman Smith suggests, that they are serious about using the new bylaw. My kids and I nearly got wiped out at the traffic lights on Waterloo Road today.
We were stationery, since the light was red, the daft cow in the Opal Corsa Lite “S” (seriously, it’s a Corsa Lite – don’t attract further attention by adding a big red letter) came up behind us doing [cough] “sixty”, saw us VERY late because she was texting on her white BB and just missed us, finally skidding into the kerb about 50cm behind us. She wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, incidentally. So that gives her at least three out of four of the major causes of death on the road.
Anyway, I got a fright, she got a fright (and probably BBM’d her friends about it as she drove away), the kids were unaware, unperturbed and therefore unmoved by the entire incident.

Which is just about the best result I could have wished for, save for her phone being impounded, like her brain obviously had been.