Why Our Roads Are Highways To Hell

Why Our Roads Are Highways To Hell

‘Keep left, pass right” is not some political slogan, but a simple instruction that few motorists seem to understand. In fact, it’s a law of the road, but because it requires active policing to enforce — in other words, for traffic officers to get off their “pie and coke”-filled behinds — it’s an offence you will never see a fine being issued for.

Instead, the powers that be chant “speed kills” when promoting and enforcing as simple a law as keep left, pass right will do way more in curbing road accidents than the soft target that is speeding. I am not condoning driving at 180km/h in a 60km/h zone — that’s sheer recklessness — but prosecuting a motorist for driving on the highway at 130km/h instead of 120km/h is less about promoting road safety and more about generating income.

Granted, you are still breaking the law, but speed prosecution in this country is all about the money and local governments are making a killing (pardon the pun). With as much as 80% of annual budgets being generated in this way, it’s a target that has to be reached. And what a sweet deal, as it requires traffic officers doing as little work as possible, while the real causes of accidents — pedestrians on highways, unroadworthy vehicles, motorists who don’t know how to drive because they have bought licences and drinking and driving — go unpunished.

If they were serious about speed and road safety, we would have thousands of permanent cameras set up around the country, in jail jumpsuit orange for every motorist to see. When I raised this point with the Joburg metro police’s Edna Mamonyane on an discussion on the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences a few years ago, her response was that people would speed and only slow down where the cameras were.

Is that not the idea to force people to slow down? Put up tons of these permanent cameras and motorists will get tired of speeding up and slowing down. But instead we have officers hiding behind bushes or perching precariously between busy highway overpasses like snipers, with one goal in mind: not to be seen. Why would you want to slow down the cash cow you can keep milking?

The sad reality is that the situation will probably never change, so, as is the norm in South Africa, it’s going to be up to each one of us to make the change — and it must start with keep left, pass right. Perhaps I need to explain why I see this rule as one of the most important, especially with our situation, where arrogance and ignorance face off daily on our roads. If you stick to this principle, your attention is focused on one side of your car — the right-hand side — when you do your checks for overtaking.

Once completed, you can safely move back into the left lane knowing that lane is clear. But the current situation on our roads has us “undertaking” — passing on the left — more than overtaking, because the left lanes are usually open. This dramatically increases the risk of accidents. Then there is the arrogance side of the situation — just because you are driving at the speed limit does not mean you can drive in the right lane! Keep left, pass right will reduce tailgating, flashing of lights and hooting and take the edge off the aggression/frustration we display.

And then there are the ignorant motorists who think it’s okay to be doing 80km/h in the fast lane. This happens when you skip the “learning to drive” part and go straight to purchasing your licence. This is why on the autobahns in Germany they are able to have certain sections where there are no speed restrictions, because everyone follows this principle!

The fast lane remains clear, so you will never find yourself meeting up with a truck or a car crawling along in the fast lane. And keep left, pass right works on five-lane highways too — yes, South African motorists, those three lanes can actually be driven in! It’s super simple — slowest on the left, fastest on the right. As a guideline, 80km/h in the left lane — so that’s all trucks and unroadworthy “sidewinding” cars/ bakkies.

As motorists it’s time for mass action. We need to make “Keep left, pass right” our chant. If enough of us are talking about it, we can educate the uninitiated and change the attitudes of the arrogant.

Marius Roberts