LOADSHEDDING LEAVES ROAD SAFETY IN THE DARK.
Loadshedding has become a daily part of life in South Africa. With no foreseeable end to this increasingly dire situation, many South Africans have been forced into rethinking how they conduct work, school and life in general with intermittent access to power.
Not only does loadshedding impact just about every area of our lives, but extended hours of loadshedding also contribute towards a less safe way of life. Crime has seen a sharp increase as criminals take advantage of the hours of darkness as a cover for their nefarious activities. This increase includes crimes such as house burglaries, hijackings and cable theft.
Road safety – much like everything else – has taken a severe blow under loadshedding. The lack of traffic lights and streetlights alone has caused the rate of road-related incidents to skyrocket.
Driving in the dark is already more dangerous than driving during the day due to reduced visibility. The lack of streetlights in affected areas diminish the visibility of the surroundings outside of your vehicle and the robots at intersections are rendered useless without power, slowing the flow of traffic. On top of this already volatile situation, many road users also express frustration at this through their driving, making dangerous conditions that much more unsafe.
We need to rethink our behavior on the road in order to curtail the potential dangers that loadshedding poses.
OUR “10% SLOWER” RULE
Before we get into specific scenarios pertaining to road safety and loadshedding, it is worth highlighting our “10% Slower” Rule.
This rule states that for every adverse driving condition, drivers should decrease their speed by 10% per condition as well as an additional 10% if you are driving with children. Adverse driving conditions include low visibility, severe weather conditions, driving near schools, damaged roads, if there has been a collision on the road, and so on. Therefore, if you were driving with your children during loadshedding while it was raining, you would decrease your speed by 30%. Adopting this habit allows you to give yourself enough time to react to a dangerous and unpredictable situation in adverse conditions.
Never exceed the speed limit when conditions on the road are unsafe as this increases the chance of a collision by greatly reducing the period during which you can react.
NAVIGATING ROADS DURING AN OUTAGE
Streetlights and robots are the first obvious casualties of loadshedding in the context of our roads. When driving down an unlit street or road, exercise additional caution by driving slowly.
Especially in residential areas where there may be pedestrians, cyclists or pets, the low visibility could make it harder for them to notice and therefore predict their behavior. Children and animals are already at higher risk due to their smaller size, which does not allow drivers to see them as easily due to the height of the bonnet of their car. Additionally, they may not notice your vehicle before stepping onto the road. Drive slow enough so that you have time to take in your surroundings and stop to avoid hitting a person or animal.
By the same token, when driving on damaged roads where there may be potholes, drive slow enough that will give you enough time to notice the damage and drive around it to avoid damaging your vehicle.
Unlit intersections that do not have functioning robots create a potentially hazardous situation, leaving frustrated drivers to navigate them themselves. With the lack of metro police consistently stationed at intersections during loadshedding to help direct the flow of traffic, many drivers take the opportunity to speed through intersections or tailgate vehicles ahead of them to not be delayed by the slowed traffic. During loadshedding, intersections should be treated as stop streets, with the right to go being passed to the left, one row of cars moving into the intersection at a time. Before driving, be sure to check for any vehicles driving out of turn to see who may cause a collision and then proceed with caution.
CRIME ON THE ROADS
Hijackings, kidnappings and “smash & grabs” have been recurring problems for South Africans long before loadshedding began. And under the cover of the darkness that is afforded to criminals under loadshedding, these crimes have become that much more prevalent.
When stopping your vehicle at an intersection or while parking your vehicle, it is vitally important to be vigilant of suspicious people or vehicles around you. Be especially careful in situations where criminals may try and corner you. This includes times when pulling into your driveway, or when stalled behind traffic at a stop street or intersection as they will use your lack of escape routes against you.
It is also imperative that vehicle maintenance is kept up to date. Having your vehicle breakdown on the side of the road will make you an extremely easy target for criminals. Keep your vehicle serviced and ensure you are equipped with the necessary tools to deal with a breakdown which includes a spare wheel, breakdown kit, torch & jumper cables, so that if your vehicle does breakdown, you are stopped on the side of the road for as little time as possible. During loadshedding, it is also especially important to wear a reflective vest while attending to a breakdown so that you are visible to passing vehicles. If you see a metro police vehicle, flag them down to assist in keeping you safe while you get your vehicle running again. If a callout is necessary, make the call promptly and avoid leaving your vehicle unattended unless staying with it puts you in danger.
To avoid drawing the attention of criminals, be sure to pack away any items of value in your car. This includes mobile phones and GPS devices. In the dark, these devices shine brightly to let criminals know you have an item of value in your vehicle and show them exactly where it is.
PREPARE AHEAD AND STAY CALM
As we adjust to life under the increasingly oppressive nature of loadshedding, information and awareness is vital.
Apps exist that easily inform you of the expected loadshedding outages in an area. A great and extremely popular app for tracking loadshedding is the EskomSe Push app. Additionally, the app’s “AskMyStreet” function can be a tool for alerting you and your neighbours to criminal activity in the area. Neighbourhood groups on social media can also keep you in the loop regarding anything suspicious that may be unfolding in your area.
Navigation apps such as Waze and Google Maps are great at showing which routes are congested and if there have been collisions. Although, as mentioned in the previous section, exercise caution when using navigation apps while driving as brightly lit screens will draw the attention of criminals. Rather check your route before driving and then place your device in a concealed space.
Lastly, it is of utmost importance to remain calm on the roads. Remember that loadshedding affects all of us and misplaced frustration should not be directed at other drivers. Being in a clear and rational state of mind, unclouded by emotions, makes for a safer road for everyone. Anger and aggression only add fuel to an already inflammable situation. Be respectful of all people on the road.
The future of South Africa’s loadshedding problem seems dark, with no long-term solutions on the horizon. Adapting to this unfavourable situation does not mean we have to accept or condone the actions that led us to this point – and nor should we have to. But coming to terms with the reality of the situation and changing our habits to live life around allows us some small degree of control over our own safety and wellbeing.