Screeching halt: Behaviour on our roads reflects the neuroses, frustration and anger of the nation, as well as contempt for authority and disregard of the traffic laws. On top of that, roads have not been adapted for public transport in more than two decades of democracy. It is no wonder accidents take such a grim toll. Picture: ISTOCK
Screeching halt: Behaviour on our roads reflects the neuroses, frustration and anger of the nation, as well as contempt for authority and disregard of the traffic laws. On top of that, roads have not been adapted for public transport in more than two decades of democracy. It is no wonder accidents take such a grim toll. Picture: ISTOCK

When Karl Benz, Gottlieb Daimler and their peers invented the modern motor car, they also invented the car accident (to adapt philosopher Paul Virilio’s observation about the invention of the airplane).

The car is, in that ubiquitous phrase, an accident waiting to happen. The concept of an "accident" really gained traction only in the industrial age following the advent of the steam and internal combustion engines.

Accidents don’t happen in slow motion, they are catastrophic because of the speed and physicality of modern collisions. Few people, if any, lost their lives falling off slow-moving hay carts or ox wagons — except, perhaps, on the Great Trek.

But it takes a human to perform an accident. Put a fellow being at the controls of a machine capable of motion, speed, force and inertia and you are giving him – or her (which happened quite late in motoring history) – a weapon of intimidation and even of death.

Drivers are now weaponised beings, self-appointed warriors of the road. We are a nation of Mad Maxes.

There are those who, when they get into their cars, would prefer getting into Captain Kirk’s teleporter: enter the chamber, press a button and instantly arrive at the destination.

But because the car isn’t a teleporter, these Trekkers will drive at speeds approaching instant arrival, with other cars on the road considered irritating glitches in time-space travel.

Antisocial doesn’t even come close — asocial would better describe these psychotics.

The bad drivers are those who see every other car as an obstacle to be left behind in  their slipstream. They shift from lane to lane, crossing solid white lines with impunity, confident of the absence of law enforcement; they cut in to get in front of you without calculating if there is enough space to move safely into your lane; and they revel in pulling off at great speed even when the next traffic light is a mere 50m away.

A kind of feudal regime is in place on our roads. The rich expect deference, the poor protest with go-slows, strikes and vehicular toyi-toyi-ing. Stop. Alight … and it’s democracy (almost)

Then there are the arse-smellers, tailgaters who screech up to your rear in a 60km zone at 120km/h, who harass you into the slow lane even though the traffic won’t allow you to move any faster. These, invariably, are BMW drivers.

There are speed hounds out on the roads who aim to beat you. They hate driving on empty roads, because there is no one there to compete with.

They just have to get ahead of you, every car trip is a demolition derby because driving at prescribed speeds is effeminate, if not gay. And there are many women who drive in exactly this way.

There are those enraged young white women, prone to seeing anyone slowing them down as curtailers of their democratic right to transgress the traffic laws. They fume at you and curse, shrieking hysterically as they force their way past you. I have had
scores of white women screaming at me for keeping to the speed limit.

Taxi drivers are notorious, harried by their bosses who reward them only if they break every rule of the road.

But there are those who scream blue murder at taxi drivers when they stop for passengers on roads that have not, two decades after democracy, been adapted to our public transport nonsystems.

Bakkie drivers are another source of right-wing rage. With large engines and four-wheel-drive systems, these farmers love tailgating, the threat of ramming you with their horn-like protective bars always implicit.

And don’t even talk about the trucks and the buses.

Flouting rules has become a national pastime, the use of indicators has been outlawed by people who can drive only while clutching their cellphones.

Turning from the wrong lane is a way to inflict irritation on other drivers and is thereby a source of joy. Roundabouts and four-way stops are sites where we discover mortality. It’s first-come, first-violated.

Ungenerous behaviour is manly, no one ever thanks you for giving them the space they are forcing from you. Thanking anyone is behaviour to be scorned at.

The psychology of these fiends reflects the state of the nation. The two largest groups in the population, whites and blacks, play out racial attack-and-revenge games on the road. Every infraction from a racial other is perceived as  racial assault. Being overtaken is a humiliation. Indians, coloureds and Chinese are expected to make way for the majoritarians, although they,
too, are fast learning to become True Safricans.

Picture: SUPPLIED
Picture: SUPPLIED

The economics of driving is another determinant of road rage. And in this country, of course, it’s the race-class nexus all over again. White drivers of fast, expensive cars rage at the fact that they may be limited by slower, inexpensive cars driven by black proles.

Of course, we now have a fairly large class of Black Beemer drivers, some even with blue lights attached, moving in convoys of luxury models.

A kind of feudal regime is in place on our roads. The rich expect deference, the poor protest with go-slows, strikes and vehicular toyi-toyi-ing.

Stop. Alight … and it’s democracy (almost). Drive … and it’s definitely a caste system, replete with Brahmins and dalit untouchables.

Perhaps the lack of some sort of catharsis after apartheid’s demise is playing itself out long after the proceedings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission wound to an unsatisfactory close.

But surely it can’t all be about race and class and politics; there must be some pattern that bad drivers fall into?

Perhaps this: bad drivers are those who make you speed up, or force you to slow down or brake. They force you to change lanes or endanger other drivers, or they force you to alter the natural rate at which you are travelling. Bad drivers are those who use force on the roads.

Driving is a social act, a fact that bypasses many drivers, which is why we find deeply antisocial roadhog-psychotics every time we set out in our mobile coffins.

’Tis the season to be jolly. To stay jolly, stay off the roads!

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