Saturday, 23 February 2008

Car accidents are no accident

I live in Bedford Gardens, about 2km from the N3 and the infamous Gilloolies intersection and the Van Buuren road off-ramp. If you live in Joburg you've heard of it; but not for the green leafy suburb that 20-years ago was still like a village, with horses on small-holdings. No, no. Bedfordview gets top spot on most radio traffic reports. This section of road is a death-trap.

In late-August a whole series of incidents happened along this stretch. Within a two week period there were MAJOR accidents where one - or more - people lost their lives. Trucks crossing lanes into oncoming traffic, cars crashing through barricades, multi car pile-ups... I took this photo 2-3 hours after one of the biggest incidents. I was out running. Surprisingly no-one was killed and the drivers of both cars involved, which I believe the truck flew over (and partically landed on one of the little sporty cars), walked out of it with no injuries. The highway was blocked for about 6-hours while they got truck tow-trucks in and dealt with the clean-up of the road.

This situation happens with sad regularity.

A few years ago when I was travelling a lot to adventure races around the World I became road-paranoid. On these trips I wouldn't have to drive and I saw no accidents. I'd return home, head out to a running race, orienteering or to the shops and I'd be greeted by contorted cars and bodies under sheets. I drove a skeedonky 1978 Toyota Corolla, with no amenities and I got scared.

I wasn't afraid of going out; I thought I wouldn't make it home alive, especially when I got onto the N3 South to come home.

This was one of my major motivations to get a "real" job with a stable salary. After the first month at Let's Play I replaced the Toyota with a vehicle made in this decade. When I spoke to the car salesman I had specific requirements: red or white car, airbags, roll bars, ABS and the third, centered rear light above the hatchback. Fortunately all cars made in this decade have retractable seatbelts so I didn't need to add this to my list.

On Thursday noon, on my way from the office, I passed Eastgate and headed towards Bedfordview to get sushi take-out. Passing the fire station I saw cars and spectators lined-up along the bridge. I drove across and pulled over, joining the ranks of gawking people. I couldn't have gotten there more than a few minutes after the accident. As the crash has happened right outside the fire station, the firemen were there. The ambulances arrived a few minutes later - on the N3 North - battling to get through the traffic (foolish motorists wouldn't open a gap for them to cross!) to the other side of the highway.

A car-carrying truck had lost control, veering from the slow lane of the N3 North, through the tension cable barricades on both sides of the centre island and into the oncoming traffic. This was clearly evident from its skid marks. The truck took out a bakkie (hit the drivers side) and a flat bed truck.

The driver of the bakkie was still inside the mangled vehicle and a lady was talking to him. The front was completely bashed in and there was barely chest width of space inside. airbags would not have made a difference. The driver was alive but there was no way on this earth that he could have been in condition other than critical.

The ambulances arrived, the firemen brought out the jaws of life, and the paramedics got working on the driver. They worked for a few minutes, while the firemen opened up the driver's door. His right arm hung limply. Within 10-minutes the medics moved away; they can only help the living.

This is not an isolated incident; horrific road accidents happen each and every single day around our city and our country.

During the December holidays over 1000 people were killed; motorists and pedestrians. But this was "ok" because numbers were down from the same period last year. It is not ok. 702 radio spoke about the death toll frequently and I tried repeatedly to phone to say, "You're missing the point! That is only the number of dead people. If you're dead, you're dead and you'll be missed by your friends and family. What about those who are maimed for live, paralysed, unable to work and dependant on family?"

On Thursday afternoon I did get through to 702, on Jenny Crwys-Williams' show. On Thursdays she has a Q&A segment where people can ask questions, or provide answers, to any of life's mysteries. I had a question.

"Does anyone review the CCTV footage from the camera over the N3 - like the one next to the Landrover dealership right where the accident happened - to analyse why all these accidents are happening in this same area with regularity, what is the cause and what can be done about it?" I hope we'll get an answer this Thursday.

In December 2006 Tony and Ivan drove down with me to Skyrun. I set my car rules upfront. No driving above the speed limit and seat belts at all times - front and back. In a head-on collision we may still be toast but I believe that road laws have been put in place to keep us safe and that this is the least we can do. Tony and Ivan were in agreement as they also stick to these regulations in their own vehicles.

The bakkie driver... he was just on his way, as usual, when the truck came flying across from the opposite side of the highway to take him out. There was little he could do about this. I also take off my hat to the medics and firemen who did what they could for this man, and all the hundreds of other people they attend to daily. I would not like to see such agony and loss over and over and over.

Seeing these road accidents makes me afraid; I have a life to live, a difference to make and people I love. I fail to understand how seeing this same carnage cannot affect those who weave in and out of congested traffic, flicking their lights and riding up centimeters from the rear of cars ahead of them. Yes morons, it can happen to you too.

My final comment goes out to all of you reading this who think it is A-ok to drive at speeds in excess of 130km/h. It is not; even if you're on a long open road in the newest Volvo, BMW or like fancy-pants car (or any other motorised vehicle with 2 or 4 wheels). I don't care whether you have airbags and ABS.

And if you're driving at these speeds with a passenger... you are endangering your passenger's life.

As for passengers who get into cars with drivers who behave like this; he does not love nor care about you. You do not jeopardise the life of a person you love, nor find entertainment in making them scared. Let this be a light-bulb warning to passengers and something for these speedsters to think about.

Those who think it is fine to drive without a seatbelt; it is not ok either.

And, as for those of you who joke about driving home on auto-pilot after a party or having a few beers but think you are "still ok to drive". You are not ok. You're stupid.

Even if you adhere to traffic laws you may still be in an accident and you may still be injured or killed. But, idealistically, I like to hope that if all the traffic laws were followed - by everyone - the rate and severity of accidents would diminish.

But, this is not an ideal World so instead, reader, I wish for your safe passage where ever and when ever you travel.


Anonymous said...

I also believe in a brightly coloured car, for visibility. Also, it is essential to be totally focused on driving, while driving. For me, everything else is secondary when I am driving, including looking at scenery, chatting to passengers; most often I don't even have the radio on. Concentration on the road and in particular, other road users.
I don't however agree with your sentiments regarding speed. Speed doesn't kill, it gets you from A to B. Slow or stationary vehicles cause more fatal accidents than fast moving traffic. Trucks with no lights, alcohol and a lack of pedestrian walkways cause death on the roads. Fatigued/unlicensed/incompetent/drunk drivers are becoming prevailent. People like that driving 30 ton rigs or 3 ton taxis must lead to death. Negligent or reckless driving causes accidents. But speed itself doesn't kill. The hype about speed has been created by the government to justify a major source of easy income, far easier than addressing the real problems. Did you know half of Centurion's municipal revenue is generated by traffic tickets! - Ronald

adventurelisa said...

Heya Ronald,

Yes, you are correct too - about speed. It's not the speed that kills, it's the stopping that does it. You're also on target about unroad worthy vehicles, incompetent drivers etc. BIG problem.

The one downside with speed is that you don't have much time to do anything about the situation you find yourself in.

Personally, I'm uncomfortable hurtling along in a vehicle and I do think that speed makes a considerable difference to the outcome of many accidents. That said, the guy in the bakkie probably wasn't speeding. He ws just in the wrong place, at the wrong time when a truck from the opposite side of the highway slammed into his car.


Anonymous said...

I coudn't agree with you more. If one person dies on the road instead of two, does not make it acceptable. As far as I am concerned, the 'Drive Alive' campaign is a dismal failure - it is like trying to convince a drug addict that drugs will kill him...a waste of time! This country needs to introduce the point system and people caught driving at high speed should have their cars confiscated, and be sentenced to community service...maybe then people will wake up. But what do we get instead? A transgressor who, after publicly apologising for being stupid and irresponsible, gets off by paying a puny fine!

adventurelisa said...

Anon, you're quite right.

Liesel Basil said...

That's a frightening view. Do the traffic enforcers have any statistics about the accidents which occurred there? Information like that might be helpful for the public, and of course, we just have to reiterate basic road safety rules like keeping to the speed limit.