The South African Road Federation (SARF) is calling on government to prioritise a change in legislation pertaining to the transportation of vulnerable road users, particularly learners.
A recent taxi crash, which saw one child being killed and 13 others critically injured, is one of five collisions involving groups of children that have been reported in the first two months of the year. In a spate of violent crashes, which have taken place over the last 14 days, at least eight children have died and more than 30 have been critically injured.
“The status quo is completely intolerable,” says Mr Innocent Jumo, President of the South African Road Federation (SARF). “We simply cannot sit back and allow any more innocent children to be killed on our roads. We are therefore calling on the government and the Department of Transport to make an urgent amendment to the legislation pertaining to the transportation of passengers, and in particular the transportation of learners to and from schools.”
The KwaZulu-Natal departments of education and transport was tasked to come up with a “policy proposal” on the use of bakkies to carry schoolchildren following an accident in Pietermaritzburg that claimed seven lives. In addition, SARF feels that national legislation pertaining to the transportation of learners requires urgent attention, along with uncompromising regulation and a zero-tolerance approach to enforcement of the regulations.
“As far as we are aware there is currently no legislation that actually prohibits the transportation of passengers on open goods vehicles,” says Mr Jumo. “In fact, in certain areas, particularly rural parts of the country, people will use almost any form of transport, regardless of the obvious risk to life and limb, as they feel that they have no other alternative when it comes to modes of transport to get them to and from school or work.”
Regulation 247 of the NRTA 93/1996 permits the conveying of passengers in the goods compartment of a vehicle provided that the sides of the vehicle are enclosed to a height of at least 350mm above the seating surface or 900mm above the surface on which the person is standing. This means that only minimal side protection is offered and that there is no need for a roof covering. The regulations also state that passengers may not be conveyed in the goods compartment of the vehicle together with any tools or goods, except their personal effects, unless the portion in which passengers are being conveyed is separated by a partition
According to the KZN premier’s spokesman, Thami Ngwenya, the provincial cabinet in that province is currently looking at the urgent implementation of safer modes of transport but also acknowledges that complexities of the problem in an area where there are limited modes of transport available. “In light of the on-going and needless carnage on our roads today, legislation falls far short of adequate,” says Mr Jumo. “We need urgent intervention and alternative options. Most importantly, we need law enforcement to play its part in protecting the lives or workers and children.”
He goes on to say that what is less clear is how we should approach the careless and reckless attitude of drivers on our roads. “While the transportation of passengers in open goods vehicles has actually been banned in certain countries around the world, there are experts in our industry that feel that we do not in fact need amendments to the legislation, just greater regulation and far more law enforcement,” says Mr Jumo. “There are thousands of people living in South Africa today that still rely on these basic forms of transport, with little to no other options. If this is the case, and the legislation is not to be amended, then we need to take a long hard look at the behaviour of drivers on our roads, and take serious action against those people who blatantly transgress the law, and ultimately devastate innocent lives.”
It was also reported that the Department of Transport is proposing a complete ban, which is zero alcohol levels, for drivers. The proposal is outlined in the draft National Road Traffic Amendment Bill.
“As a Federation we do offer our support to the Department of Transport and its agencies in an effort to reduce the number of fatalities on our roads,” he says. “We can see that the Department of Transport is actively looking at ways to address the unacceptable problem on our roads and we agree with the Minister of Transport’s view that road safety is a collective effort,” concluded Mr Jumo.