x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

SA drivers are polite but roads are hazardous

South Africa is home to some of the most polite drivers in the world – and also some of the worst.

Minibuses are a real danger on the roads of South Africa with frequent fatalities reported.
Minibuses are a real danger on the roads of South Africa with frequent fatalities reported.

JOHANNESBURG // South Africa is home to some of the most polite drivers in the world – and also some of the worst. A huge road-building and repair programme has been running for years to improve the system, but World Cup visitors will find that despite the blue lines on maps marking out motorways criss-crossing the country, once away from major centres the roads often prove to be no more than a single carriageway.

In such situations lorry drivers, rather than allowing a queue of vehicles to build up behind them, will draw to one side and allow faster cars to overtake them, signalling when it is safe to do so. Driving across the land gives people an impression of the country - its huge scale and, in places, vast emptiness - that few other means of transport can provide. But the lorry drivers' characteristic stands in stark contrast to some other road users. The road fatality rate South Africa stands at 33.2 per 100,000 people every year, more than six times higher than the United Kingdom, for example, which is 5.4.

The driving test, known as K53, is extremely tough, but widespread corruption means that it is sometimes not necessary to actually pass to obtain a licence. Insurance is not compulsory, and in some quarters drink-driving is seen as socially acceptable - earlier this year Jackson Mthembu, the chief spokesman of the ruling African National Congress, was convicted of drink-driving, having been arrested when three times over the limit at 8am. He admitted the offence and apologised to "all South Africans", saying he had set a bad example.

With commuter rail systems conspicuous by their absence outside Cape Town and Johannesburg, and even then offering relatively limited services, the minibuses, the most feared form of transport, are the only available form of public transport for millions of people. sports@thenational.ae