Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

"The equivalent of at least ten schools' learners are killed every year on South African roads." - by Nick van der Leek

South Africans are pretty blase about all the infamy and skandaal that surrounds us. We brush it off as someone elses problem, or it couldn't happen to us, or we sweep it under the carpet in the name of not being a whinger, or a complainer. But using the country's roads is something we do daily, and in one way or another it affects all of us deeply.

Recently I made a trip to Bloemfontein and thought I'd save myself some moolah by avoiding the tollgates. There are three now, charging R37, R42 and R13. That's a total of R92. The road to Parys isn't bad, and in fact, Parys is worth a squizz. It's a happening little place, and it's definitely picked up a vibe. But beyond Parys towards Vredefort the road deteriorates badly and pretty soon I was ruing my decision to get off the N1. Maybe I'm saving R55, but if you hit one pothole, the road is so uniformly bad it's hard not to - it's going to cost you at least the price of a new rim, even perhaps a new tyre, more than ten times your fee at the tollgates.

At the last tollgate I headed towards Brandfort, and here you have a section of dirt road to contend with [you miss it if you get off at Windburg and follow the tar road to Brandfort]. Once through the 20-odd kilometres of dirt road you hit some really bad patches of tar. You literally have to ski left and right over the road to miss the craters. Obviously when cars pass each other in opposite directions you have to stay in your lane and take what comes. An oncoming truck hit a pothole full bore beside me and I saw those axles bend as the truck bounced, bodily - and heavily - into the air.

So in terms of severely delayed travelling time, and the clear and present danger of smashing your undercarriage at any moment in a donga - you are far better off staying on the toll road. In other words, you're really out of options.

Now I want to talk about drivers in South Africa. It may seem like excessive criticism, but once you leave the country and travel the roads in say - Australia - you realise what pigs we are on the roads here. In Australia the speed limit is a sedate 110km/h and it's heavily enforced. On a excursion to Cervantes [outside Perth] with some friends we were pulled over by a traffic patrol vehicle. Yes, pulled over. In other words, they're driving behind you, lights are on, and you're motioned to pull over. They recorded us going 97km/h in a 90km/h zone. They let us off with a warning.

Australia is a country many times larger than South Africa, so if there is any country that has a case for allowing a higher speed limit, it's there. In fact while I was in Australia I was keenly aware of road carnage wherever I went - because each accident there is a tragedy. In South Africa the speed limit is 120km/h - this in spite of sky high accident stats. You'd think with the level of discipline on our roads [aka none] we'd slow down traffic by making the speed limit more sensible. This not feasible from a policing point of view [our cops hide behind bushes rather than make their appearance clear. That way when you're not working you wouldn't know the difference]. It is also not feasible from the perspective of a lawless bunch on the highways.

The racing going on on the N1 is an everyday game, which is why it's hardly surprising that Jub Jub recently crashed into a few scholars. You see vehicles shooting along the N1 between Johannesburg and Pretoria well over the speed limit, cruising across all three lanes, often a few vehicles at the same time. It's a computer game. You see all types engaging in this ludicrous behaviour. Why? Because there is a cowboy culture here on the roads - dead bodies are wheeled quickly out of sight on our roads, and blood mopped up. The stupidity of the risks South Africans take at the level they take them beggars belief. I've seen mothers in SUV's overtaking other cars on suburban roads with speed bumps.

The attitude of South African drivers to cyclists stinks to high heaven. What is a cyclist? It's a driver riding on a bicycle, with no seat belt, and no armored shell around him. Instead of drivers being cautious around cyclists, they taunt riders by narrowly missing them as they drive way. If you have a competition between a cyclist and a car, 100% of the time the cyclist will lose, and probably his life too. Any driver of a car who thinks this is a game, thinks it's a fair competition, ought to consider that one day their puppy or cat or young child wonders onto a road - where it isn't supposed to be. Should the attitude of drivers be: you shouldn't be on my road so I am just going to drive over you. And kill a child? Or a dog or cat?

As soon as you get into a car you literally have other people's lives - and your own - in your own hands. Treat that responsibility with respect, not contempt, not arrogance. Drive slower, drive carefully, because if you make a mistake, you will pay dearly for it or someone else will. Is someone's life really worth an ego boost? Is yours?

Do you know anyone who has died, or been seriously injured in a car accident? Or are you a victim? Chances are that you do. I personally had my knee sliced open in a car accident. An ex-girlfriend had one side of her face torn away, and almost lost her eye. Let's remember that driving a car is simply about getting from one place to another. It shouldn't leave people permanently scarred or damaged. Driving is a privilege, not a right, although many of us seem to feel entitled to both cars, use of the road, and the way we want to use it. What we put into our cars is precious - the passengers, and fossil fuels. The car itself is a valuable tool. Treat it as though your life and the lives of others depends on it - because, of course, it does.

SA roads most dangerous in the world - AA
Bakkie hits cyclists, killing 3
Top South African female cyclist killed in accident

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