Another day, another accident

Another day, another major road accident.  A report in the Mercury, 12 November 2013, reported that over 500 lives had been lost in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) in road accidents in the past four months! The majority of these accidents involved buses or trucks. As soon as one of these horrific accidents is reported the media, politicians and every member of the public has an opinion on why the accident happened and all are horrified for a few days.

Most popular opinion is that the vehicle was not in good repair or that the driver was not properly licensed. In some instances the road is blamed for being in poor condition or of bad design. As with most situations, lots is said but very little done. In the recent Fields Hill disaster the public was very quick to support the driver and blame the owner. Then it turned out that the driver had a false driver’s licence so it could be his fault but as he is just 23 and comes from Swaziland there was still a groundswell of support for him. The vehicle owner then said that he had checked the SA Registry of drivers licensed for heavy duty vehicles (after the accident) and found that this man’s name was not on it. Why did he not do this before employing him to drive a valuable cargo? How can a 23-year old be given responsibility for, say, a R1m vehicle and cargo worth up to R1m with no pre-check on the validity of his licence or experience?

The Minister of Transport suggests the banning of all heavy vehicles from the roads and using rail instead. Even if this was feasible and SA had suitable rail systems, such a move would take many years to implement. What is needed is action NOW! Of all the arguments that are put forward, I have never seen one querying the training of drivers, for any class of vehicle. This led me to do a search and see what other countries’ requirements for driving instructors are. Sadly, it would seem, SA failed miserably.

My quick search revealed the following:

United StatesDriver’s Ed(ucation) is taught in all high schools; as a federal republic, each state has its own unique set of requirements but the common one’s are

  •       a high school diploma
  •       valid state driver’s licence
  •       2-5 years driving experience
  •       knowledge of vehicle operation and safety
  •       good communication skills, teaching ability, listening ability, compassion

United Kingdom – these are the same for the whole country except N Ireland; it is in 3 parts, the first being a basic application and the other 2 both written and practical

Part 1

  • produce your driving licence number
  • confirm any criminal record disclosure number, and the date it was produced
  • details of any motoring or non-motoring offences, and disqualifications from driving
  • details of any court cases being brought against you

Part 2

  • an eyesight test
  • vehicle safety questions
  • a test of your driving ability

Part 3

  • core competencies
  • instructional techniques
  • instructor characteristics

Australia – it would seem that the different areas have differences in their requirements, this is for SW Australia

  • have held a valid driver’s licence for the relevant class of vehicle at least 3 years
  • is a fit and proper person both mentally and physically
  • be of good character as confirmed by police records
  • be over the age of 21
  • renew the licence annually
  • ensure that your instructor’s record book is kept up to date recording eye tests, medicals etc

India – this country is include as an example of a developing country so it cannot be argued that I am try to compare us with developed countries only.

v  Has reached the age of 21 years, and

v  Is the holder of a driver licence of the relevant class

v  Has, for a period of not less than 3 years during the period of 4 years before the date of the application, held a driver licence of the relevant class

v  Has been authorised by the Authority to undertake, and has passed, a course in driving instruction approved by the Authority and conducted by an organisation approved by the Authority.

Then we look at South Africa’s requirements.

  • Go to the nearest driving licence testing centre with your medical certificate form (MC) to book a test date.
  • Complete an Application for registration as a driving instructor form (RI).
  • You will be referred to a police station to obtain a clearance certificate.
  • On the date given for the test, you will write the test. If you pass, you must pay the prescribed fee.
  • The testing centre will refer your application to the Member of the Executive Committee (MEC) of the province for approval or rejection. If approved, the testing centre will issue the permit.

No mention of age or experience. No mention of a practical test. In fact, many SA drivers will tell you that a parent or adult friend taught them to drive. The fact that the parent probably got their driver’s licence 25 years earlier and does not know the details of the ‘K53’ requirements that is pretty easy to swat up. Why spend money on driving lessons? Just have 1 or 2 at the end.

Training of trainers and of drivers is something that can be changed quickly and go a long way to improving driving habits.  We could have more education in schools from a young age and continued every year gradually advancing to driver education in Grades 11 & 12. We not only have to teach prospective drivers but pedestrians and cyclists as well because we have a very high incidence of accidents involving these classes of road users. 

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