I have a morbid fear of being run over by a car. The fear is a little on the irrational side. Even if someone assured me that there were no vehicles within a 5km radius I would still cross the road the way I usually cross roads i.e. head swivelling left-and-right 60 times a second. My wife shares my little phobia and I pray that we pass it on to our knuckleheads.
No. The fear does not stem from an advanced sense of self-preservation. I always imagine that the day a car hits me Murphy’s Law will set things up such that it will be a rainy day. That when my head hits the tarmac, it will land on a puddle on a spot favoured by street kids for relief. That the paramedic who performs CPR on me will be a member of Halitosis Anonymous. Most of all, I worry that when they strip me down, I will have my 11-year-old tattered pair of lucky boxers that I wear to important meetings and on days that Chiefs plays big games.
We have just emerged from yet another period of carnage on our roads when we get obsessed with keeping count of how many people perished on our roads. If you died today, for instance, we wouldn’t give it too much thought. I mean, you would have missed the cut-off date and therefore wouldn’t fuck up the significant stats. Depending on whom you listen to, fewer than 50% (or is it 40%?) of all fatalities involve pedestrians every year. As far as I am concerned, this stat is a load of bollocks. Work with me here. What percentage of fatalities attributed to pedestrians involve two drunk walkers crashing into each other on a blind rise? Okay, how many of those fatalities involve the driver of a vehicle? If you said “100%”, pat yourself on the back. Correctomundo. In the (very likely) event that someone is already hallucinating that I’m suggesting that drivers are to blame for all accidents, not really. Stay with me. I will only start playing the blame game two paragraphs down.
One of the most ridiculous thoughts anyone can have is, “Well, the man does this every day, he must know what he is doing”. Have you ever found yourself having this retarded “practice breeds competence” thought while your obviously inebriated pilot hit the runway at a 45-degree angle during the landing at OR Tambo? The dumbest thought you can ever have where pedestrians are concerned is, “Well, this oke walks here every day. He must understand the rules of the road”. If you’ve had this thought, hit the back of your head with an open palm. No. Pedestrians don’t understand the rules of the road. Hell, 93.74% of drivers (rounded off to two decimal places) don’t understand the rules of the road! I’ve been inside someone’s car around dusk and they didn’t have their headlights on. When I casually pointed this out to him, his response was, “Don’t worry, I can still see quite clearly”. (No you dumb ass! The point is; does everybody see YOU?!) These are the high-calibre individuals operating vehicles on our roads, so can you imagine the ignorance among the bunch that didn’t even manage to pass their learner’s test at the 27th attempt?
Okay, let’s engage in South Africa’s favourite pastime — the blame game. So, who is to blame for the fact that your average pedestrian would not distinguish his double barrier line from his pedestrian crossing? Who’s fault is it that most pedestrians don’t have a clue when they have right of way and when they don’t? Who is to blame that a guy in a dark-grey outfit “chooses” to cross the M4 highway around the sharp curve just before the Durban International Airport off-ramp at 6.55pm? What if I pointed out that there was no pedestrian crossing within 10km of where he is crossing — despite the fact that 10 000 people live on either side of the highway? Okay, I just made up all those details about the M4, but you catch my drift? It’s only when I take a walk around my own neck of the woods that I realise why it is that I’m always having near-misses with pedestrians. Whichever Einstein designed the roads in my neighbourhood never fantasised that anybody would ever want to walk around. What a preposterous idea; residents talking their mutts for a walk! So everybody just sommer walks in the street and then we’re collectively surprised when “flesh and steel are one” to quote Gordon Sumner.
Of course, the attitude of some drivers is most baffling. Okay, we all know that in this country we couldn’t care less about stupid little things like pedestrian crossings. Try to use a pedestrian crossing at your local shopping mall. But make sure your medical aid funds are not exhausted and dust up on that life insurance policy. The only place where there is even a semblance of respect for pedestrian crossings is at the airport, for some reason. And even then, the beetroot-faced Neanderthal on roids behind the wheel of the Subaru will rev his engine menacingly as you dart across the lines saying your Hail Mary’s.
The other day, I was driving from a meeting in Auckland Park around 6pm. Adjacent to the Auckland Park campus of UJ, on Arnet Street, we were crawling along bumper-to-bumper at an average speed of — oh, 3km/hour. A female student stood on the side of the road, waiting for a gap between the cars so she could run across. No, it wasn’t a pedestrian crossing — the pedestrian crossing was about 100m upstreet. Let’s forgive the little bambino, she knew not what she was doing. A car moves forward and a wide enough gap opens up, so she starts crossing. All of a sudden, the blue Toyota Tazz behind the gap lurches forward with incredible purpose and violence, aiming straight for the girl. With amazing agility, the big-boned girl jumps out of the way, her Public Administration text book flung into the air and almost landing on my bonnet.
Shu, we almost lost a future Home Affairs deputy director-general. So I move forward such that I’m abreast of the Tazz driver to have a good look. Cruel, vicious snarl and flaring nostrils. This man was actually trying to hit the kid! I wanted to roll down my window and ask him, “What is going on in your life that you would want to hit someone on purpose?” But I didn’t, being the yellow-bellied wimp that I am. Just call it a hunch, but if I rolled down my window, I think this story ends with a big-headed writer using his face as the last line of defence against vicious blows while emitting high-pitched girly screams.
A few years ago the Stay Alive campaign ran a series of ads featuring a guy doing a voice-over in really condescending tones. Something along the lines of “Be on the lookout for pedestrians. They can appear out of nowhere, at a time when you least expect it”. It sounded a lot like an ad by the Kruger National Park warning visitors to watch out for stray gemsbok. But goddamnit, I don’t care how patronising my little rant sounds. Can we all just be more vigilant when it comes to pedestrians?
After all, they can appear out of nowhere, when you least expect it.