If you are a Gautenger, you'll know all about traffic. They say the Inuit people have more than a hundred words to describe snow - well, Gautengers probably have as many to describe the traffic. It starts of as a slow dribble, around six a.m. Shortly after it grows to a mild gush, followed by a raging torrent and eventually peters out into a mere trickle. Except, of course, if a truck breaks down in the middle lane of the Gillooly's Interchange at 7am: Then the traffic becomes a deep-fried bugger-up, to put it mildly. During the day we face a steady stream, and late at night there's a staccato of light traffic, interspersed with mad okes on motorbikes, who flirt with handcuffs and coffins as they scream past sleepy suburbs on their ZRXG-911SRS Yellowbirds. Or whatever the fastest thing on two wheels is called these days. So Gautengers know their traffic.
The other thing we know about is crashing. There's a lot of that going on on our roads, and even though the statistics show that it isn't getting too much worse, it sure isn't getting better either. Every year, we lose about 1,500 people during the December holidays alone. That's quite a lot. And getting snarled up in those statistics is definitely something you want to avoid - but that's often easier said than done. The thing is, car accidents are, by and large, exactly that: Accidents. Nobody gets up in the morning planning to have an accident during the day. So how do we avoid them?
Well, there are a couple of things to bear in mind. Firstly, all drivers are equal before the law, but some drivers are more equal than others. And by that I don't mean we should lock up all taxi drivers (though some might suggest it would be a good start?), but rather that not all people drive equally well. This is quite obvious, otherwise we'd all be Mike Schumacher or Deon Joubert (Google him - it's worth it). But the chasm in talent between someone who has just started driving, and someone who has been a multiple motor sport champion, isn't really important right now. What is important, is the traffic. Back to that old chestnut, eh?
The thing is, a large portion of our population knows nothing BUT traffic. They launch themselves out of their driveways at 06:30 each morning, and join the queue of cars going in the same direction as them. They potter along at 20 kph or 40 kph, or maybe 60 if things open up a bit. They listen to John Robbie, chat on the phone, have breakfast, do their make-up and generally wait until they arrive. There's not much driving involved. Autopilot at crawling pace. Then, after work, they do exactly the same thing in the opposite direction: Crawl home in a massive queue of cars. Except if a truck broke down in the middle lane of the Gillooly's Interchange, of course. Then it's a deep-fried bugger-up again.
Then comes the weekend, hurrah! Mr. and Mrs. decide to go somewhere, because the kids are driving them nuts sitting in the house, and they heard there's a lovely petting zoo just north of Hammanskraal. So they load up the twins, turn on the radio and head for the highway. Which is almost empty, by their usual standards. Suddenly Mr. has to contend with following distances, and driving at speeds just over the national limit. He has twins on the back seat, which distracts him from this new challenge, and his wife - who usually drivers herself to work - "helps" from the passenger seat. All of a sudden there are brake lights ahead of him. He's used to seeing them, of course, but not at 120 kph. He gets a fright and slams on the ABS, sending the twins straining in their restraints, their ice-creams flying onto the dashboard. His wife shouts at him for being a plonker, the guy behind him hoots at him because there really wasn't any need to brake quite so hard, and his heart rate soars. This is the harsh reality for a large number of weekend drivers: They just don't know how to handle a quiet highway.
Sadly, these same people pack their cars every December, and point towards the coast. They get up at oh-dark-thirty, and head for the horizon. This after an entire year of 40 kph traffic, punctuated by frantic weekends of terrorising other road users. These people then cause statistics to happen, and it really isn't their fault. The thing is, the entire situation can be avoided by driving more. Yes, spending more time on the road might actually be safer in the long run. Oh, I know the statistics say that the more time you spend on the road, the bigger the chances are of having an accident. But the more time you spend on the road, the better you get at driving. At predicting changes in traffic, and pre-empting situations that could become dangerous. You get to know your vehicle, you learn to relax a little - and most importantly, you learn to keep a safe following distance.
So the bottom line, then? Drive more, crash less. But for the love of fuel, please drive carefully. See each trip you take as a learning experience. Concentrate on becoming a smooth driver. Learn to scan the road ahead for trouble. If you are one of those nine-to-fivers, who often sit in traffic, you probably don't think of driving as a fun experience. Yet it can be, and it will be as soon as you start driving more, rather than just crawling to work and back. Personally I've driven across three continents so far, and plan to do more of that kind of thing. Not because I have to, but because I love it. You don't have to cross continents to get some enjoyment out of driving, all you need to do is to start driving for the sake of driving; not just to get somewhere.
By Waldo Van Der Waal.