The proliferation of car guards and street vendors directing traffic during rolling blackouts is a serious concern, and traffic authorities must do more to ensure the proper flow of traffic during times when traffic lights are not functioning. The Automobile Association (AA) says untrained ‘pointsmen’ who direct traffic – particularly at busy intersections – could be responsible for more harm than good and should be discouraged from this practice.
“While the intention is noble, and in many cases traffic does flow, it only takes one serious crash to realise the folly of this endeavour. And, because the ‘pointsmen’ are not legally authorised to perform this duty, there is no legal recourse should something go wrong,” notes the AA.
The Association says, however, that motorists have no choice but to comply with the directions given in such circumstances because all drivers are following the instructions.
“It is impossible for one motorist to ignore these instructions; this would cause chaos when other drivers are complying. This situation requires urgent intervention by traffic authorities who, in many cases, are simply nowhere to be seen when traffic lights go down,” says the AA.
The Association says rolling blackout schedules are widely available, and traffic authorities must do more to deploy personnel to those areas which carry the most traffic, specifically at peak traffic times.
“What we see, however, is that private sector pointsmen are dispatched to certain areas, but other, busier intersections are ignored. This creates a vacuum for “good Samaritans” to step in, which can lead to problems, especially if reckless drivers ignore their signals because they believe the unofficial pointsmen have no legal authority to be there.
“In 2019, a government-appointed task team – the Traffic Law Enforcement Review Committee – found that the country requires double the number of traffic officials than what it currently has, and the lack of traffic law enforcers during rolling blackouts emphasises that need,” says the Association.
Another problem, the AA notes, is that traffic law enforcement seems intent on pulling drivers over to check for expired vehicle licence discs or driving licences, often close to where traffic lights are not functioning.
“Too often a roadblock is set up with the purpose of checking documents. While this is an important function, their relevance must be weighed against the immediate need for free-flowing traffic, and the safety of motorists. If resources are too thinly spread, the deployment schedules of traffic law enforcers must be revisited, and priority must be given to addressing problems caused by rolling blackouts instead of checking for expired discs and licences. We again call on the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), and the national and provincial Departments of Traffic to ensure such an approach is implemented countrywide as a matter of urgency,” the AA says.
The Association says motorists must be careful when driving during times of rolling blackouts. It offers the following advice to motorists:
• Always check the blackout schedules for your route, not only your suburb. If possible, take another route, or leave earlier or later to avoid traffic.
• Remain calm if traffic is congested; everyone is in the same situation. Be courteous to other drivers.
• If blackouts have affected the traffic lights on your route, approach intersections as four-way stops.
• If unofficial pointsmen are directing traffic, it’s best to follow their guidance, but be cautious when approaching intersections, and always check other drivers’ behaviour before moving forward.
• Make provision for unplanned blackouts and allow enough time for your journey to arrive on time for meetings or appointments. Being late for an appointment or meeting and being stuck in traffic may cause heightened stress and anxiety, which may manifest in road rage.
The AA says rolling blackouts are a reality for everyone in South Africa, and that traffic issues related to the blackouts must be dealt with more effectively than what they currently are.
“Motorists who obey the rules of the road, and who are responsible drivers, should be afforded the respect of traffic law enforcement who ensure that everything possible is being done to make their trips safer, quicker and as hassle-free as possible,” the AA concludes.