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Making our roads safer

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Legislation alone cannot change the situation

Paying their last respect, 10 000 mourners gathered at the KwaXimba Stadium in Cato Ridge to pay their last respects to 19 taxi crash victims who were killed last Sunday. Picture: Mbuyiselo Ndlovu

PARLIAMENT is set to debate the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Bill soon.

However, as Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi has noted, the government can do what it must to promote transport safety, but legislation alone cannot change the situation.

He was commenting at the mass funeral for 19 victims of a taxi accident in KwaZulu-Natal. He said the accident showed how necessary it was to have the much-delayed legislation, which will provide a better road safety framework, including a points demerit system, to discourage road traffic contraventions.

In that horror crash, a taxi designed to carry 16 passengers was transporting 26 when it overturned.

KZN Transport MEC Mxolisi Kaunda said the driver should be charged with murder as he knowingly overloaded his taxi, thereby making it unsafe for his passengers.

The Road Traffic Management Corporation is investigating the accident, and will consider, among other things, the condition of the taxi, the road and other factors, such as the weather, which might have played a role in the accident.

What is interesting is the state of fitness of the driver and his behaviour – such as why so many people were crammed into the vehicle, and whether he was speeding.

Nearly 70% of South Africans, including schoolchildren, rely on minibus taxis for transport, and some of our worst accidents involve taxis.

In April, in another ghastly accident, on the R25 near Bronkhorstspruit, 18 schoolchildren and two adults died when the taxi they were in collided head-on with a truck.

Affordable public transport is key to the public transport sector, both in urban areas and for long-distance passenger travel.

But the challenge remains how to make taxis safe.

A study by the AA indicated that taxis, on average, account for twice the number of crashes as other passenger vehicles, and the most common causes relate to the unroadworthiness of the vehicles, including if they are overloaded, and driver behaviour, such as speeding.

Maswanganyi is right that solving the problem is dependent not only on stricter laws and law enforcement, but on changing human behaviour – and that is much harder to do.