South Africa – driving (us all) crazy!

As Janell said, we’re ready to move on.  We’ve been in the same place for 3 weeks, with another to go and we’re impatient to get to Australia.  On the plus side, the weather has remained nice: hot and windy (high 70s-low 80s, 25mph wind).

I realize that I haven’t commented on the driving conditions in the Cape Town area of South Africa.  I’m much more used to driving on the “wrong” side of the road now, and accustomed (if not deft) at shifting with my left hand.  But driving is still more exciting than I’d like.  On the main roads (with speed limits of around 45-50 mph), I am constantly dodging pedestrians strolling along — in and across the road — zigzagging cyclists, bakkies (pick-ups) and minibuses puttering along on the shoulder, and especially the “center line huggers.”  Regarding the latter, I’ve developed a theory that in South Africa, drivers think the center line is where you place the right tire while driving (the driver’s side tires).  As I am trying to avoid the oncoming traffic that is in “my” lane, I have to be careful not to hit the pedestrians walking on the yellow line on the other side.  Threading the needle on the way to the mall is one near miss after another (or should that be a near hit?) – but I’ve become used to this new way of driving.  However, the South Africans are the ones paying the price.

Statistically, South Africa’s traffic accident rate is abysmal compared to most other countries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2009, South Africa ranked third from last in road deaths proportional to the country’s population, with 33.2 road deaths per 100,000 people. This means that South Africa falls short when compared to the “safe” countries such as Germany with a death rate of of 6 people per 100,000 people in the population. According to that WHO study, only Libya and the Cook Islands are worse than South Africa.  I’ll take their word for it. Interestingly, Wikipedia (which shows similar numbers as quoted above) has the U.S. also faring poorly against most of the other “first world” countries, but even so, still has half the death rate of South Africa.

This past year, the numbers in SA were not any better:

“On 3 January 2013, the Road Traffic Management Corporation announced that the death toll on South African roads over the ‘Festive Season’ (December through early January) stands at 1,279.”  That’s enough death to take the festive out of any season.