Whose Fault Is It Anyway?

Part – indeed much – of my journey home from work features the M5 and much of that journey is usually rather slow. It gives me a chance to have a look around at the fetid industrial heartland of Cape Town, before I head down into the leafier suburbs further south.

As I’ve mentioned once or twice before, Cape Town (and South African) drivers in general seem incapable of obeying the rules of the road, but two incidents that I’ve spotted over the past couple of days have left me intrigued from a legal point of view.

The first involved a vehicle from the Provincial Motor Transport fleet. The guy driving it was talking on his cellphone and so he wasn’t paying a huge amount of attention to his driving. Thus, he veered into the yellow lane at the side of the freeway, where he almost hit a cyclist. Whose fault would that have been? You might think that it’s a bit of a no-brainer: driver on cellphone, not paying attention, veers, hits cyclist. Blame driver.
But of course, the cyclist shouldn’t have been there anyway, since they aren’t permitted to be on freeways (or to ride 2 abreast or to go through red lights or to go the wrong way down one way streets or do all the other illegal things that cyclists do). So maybe the driver could have argued that the it should have been safe for him to veer to the left without fear of squashing anyone.

The second is more clear cut. A van, delivering gas (gas go boom boom if van crashes), travelling in the right hand lane, spots a phat traffic jam ahead and decides he wants nothing to do with it. Helpfully, there’s a junction right there, so he can nip off the freeway and avoid the delay. There are just two things stopping him from carrying out this manoeuvre: there’s a solid white line and a lane of traffic to… no… wait… there’s apparently nothing stopping him from carrying out this manoeuvre as he lurches violently to the left and almost hits a Renault Scenic. Whose fault would that have been? Well, his, obviously.
Except for the fact that the woman driving said Scenic could have done a whole lot more to avoid the potential accident if she hadn’t been smoking a fag with one hand, doing her make-up with the other and being on the phone with the third. Her value as a witness would have been compromised by her extensive head injuries suffered in the accident as she wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.
But then the gas go boom boom would have killed us all anyway.

I spot a lot, but then, it’s a long, slow journey and there’s a lot to spot. But then I followed a Ghost Squad (unmarked traffic police) car down the M5 the other evening and was amazed at what he apparently didn’t spot. In the 3.5kms that I was right behind him, I counted 27 different offences by various motorists. No seatbelts, unrestrained kids, drivers using cellphones, crossing solid white lines, fag butts out of windows, a couple of cyclists etc etc.

He apparently saw nothing. Neither did the Ghost Squad motorbike that passed us both by Kromboom Road.

With law enforcement like that, it’s no wonder that drivers believe that they can break the law with impunity, and it’s no wonder that South Africa’s road death statistics are so horrific.

  • Rich

    My opinion is that law enforcement is lazy – on the weekend I headed out twice on the N2 and twice I saw a speed trap under the Liesbeeck Parkway bridge (where it’s still 80km/hr despite being on the N2). Lazy, opportunistic money-making.

    And there lies the problem – law enforcement seems to largely focus on making money through fines, not well, er, law enforcement as such.

    I drive to Woodstock daily from Claremont and more often than not take either Main Rd or Liesbeeck Parkway to avoid the mess that is the M3. On a number of occasions I’ve seen traffic officials just ignore blatant red light-jumping, crossing of solid lines, etc and on more than one occasion, seen a traffic official do just that.

    Main Road is a mess, particularly at mid-day with cars illegally parked, people jumping red lights, etc and I have yet to see a traffic beat of any sort.

    Very few crashes are accidents – they’re stupidities.

  • Rich > Many good points. The system is flawed throughout.
    Lest we forget though, the money from fines etc doesn’t go into the general fiscus – it goes into roads and traffic policing. That’s why the almost R1 billion which is outstanding in fines in Cape Town alone could make such a huge difference to the safety and the policing of our roads.
    But if there’s no follow up on the fines, then there’s no point in fining. If there’s no fining, there’s no point in not breaking the law.
    Yet when there’s a roadblock for outstanding fines etc, everyone is aggrieved and tweets/FBs the location so fine dodgers can avoid being caught and made to pay. And then in the next breath they criticise the lack of policing.

  • Dave

    This popped up in my feed today via.

    The effects can be dramatic and long-lasting. Take the example of a study in Miami Beach: after a two-week period in which drivers received police warnings for violating pedestrian right-of-way in crosswalks, the violation rate dropped drastically — and a year later, without enforcement, it was still down.

  • Dave > Thanks for the link.
    And good. Because they were very busy on the M5(N) this morning pulling people for apparently “little” things.