Licence demerits are a great idea ... now to find 100,000 spietkops
It's all very well making a move on bad drivers, but there are a few points to consider about SA’s anarchic highways
Parliament has finally passed a bill that will see misbehaving motorists lose points on their licence. This now raises tantalising metaphysical questions about how non-existent traffic police plan to deduct abstract points from non-existent licences.
Before I continue, a word to my SA readers. A “driver’s licence” is an official document or card, acquired by demonstrating one’s proficiency at driving a car and obeying the laws of the road in the presence of an official. (For any taxi drivers reading this, “laws of the road” are the reason everyone stays over on the right when you’re driving up the shoulder. Those two stripes over there, beyond where your side mirror would be if you had one, are called “lanes”, but that’s a lesson for another day.)
The bill, which must still be signed by the president, has been welcomed by transport minister Blade Nzimande. Some have questioned whether Nzimande has the chops to bring order to SA’s anarchic highways, but I think he’s got the basic qualifications: as minister of higher education he gained first-hand knowledge of how pile-ups and flaming wrecks happen, and as a member of cabinet who has never contested any national election, he is also very well versed in taking people for a ride.
According to reports, the new demerit system will see drivers lose between one and six points depending on the severity of their crime. So, for example, if you bribe a spietkop with R100 you will lose one point, whereas if you bribe a spietkop with R10 you will lose six points. Or so I imagine.
Drivers who fail to pay fines will also not have their licences renewed. This means anyone who has ever driven through Wilderness is in deep trouble, thanks to that town’s one, omniscient, hyper-strict speed camera and its monk-like silence in telling you that you’ve been nabbed.
Finally, the new bill will allow the authorities to serve summonses and suchlike via WhatsApp and SMS, which seems like a very bad idea given how many people text and drive, but there it is.
A demerit system looks grand on paper, and I’m sure the SA delegation was very excited about it when it returned from the International Conference of Highly Skilled, Ultra-Policed, New-Car-Driving Rich Northern Europeans.
Anyone who has actually driven on SA roads, however, will remain sceptical. Not because it’s not a good idea. It’s a great idea. But it requires policing, and, depending on which experts you read, we’re short between 50,000 and 100,000 traffic officers.
Indeed, as I write this four of them are walking up my street, ticketing parked cars, as the mad circus rolls relentlessly on: everyone running red lights because that’s apparently what we all do now; taxis reversing up freeways; people drifting across lanes as they stare slack-jawed at WhatsApp, waiting for that summons ...