NATIONAL NEWS - A research study done by an occupational therapist at the University of the Witwatersrand has revealed that poor working conditions contribute to the number of minibus taxi crashes in Johannesburg.
Bioethicist Dr Lee Randall’s quest to find the real culprit for road crashes came after she treated a minibus taxi driver who lost his arm when a private vehicle hit him in 2010.
The driver – an educated man – resorts to driving as a stop-gap job. However, he was left disabled and unemployed after the accident.
Randall said: “The public tends to vilify minibus taxi drivers and ascribe a high degree of moral responsibility to them, but this intuitive reasoning seems to disregard their work conditions and how these affect their driving behaviour.”
In her research, Randall focused on the bioethics of road safety in the Johannesburg minibus taxi industry. The thesis is titled “Coffins on wheels”: A bioethical study of work conditions, driver behaviour, and road safety in the Johannesburg minibus taxi industry explored taxi drivers’ work conditions and the extent to which they are responsible for crashes.
“The taxi drivers I interviewed admitted to bad driving behaviour but linked this strongly to their work conditions,” she added.
Driving risk management and driver training expert Eugene Herbert of MasterDrive said taxi drivers don’t lack any skills. However, the spotlight should be on the drivers’ work conditions.
The study showed that minibus taxi drivers work at least six days a week, 15 hours a day, with no UIF or overtime. They have to pay for their petrol, professional driving permits, licenses, taxi cleaning, and minor repairs.
“From these stressful realities, they generate meagre incomes, like wages of as little as R200 per week plus any ‘leftover’ fares on good days,” she added.
In Johannesburg, minibus taxis are an indispensable mode of transport. They offer flexible and relatively affordable services to the vast majority of commuters and help reduce the social divide caused by apartheid geography.
Due to these conditions, taxi drivers’ survival strategies include speeding and overloading.
Randall added that the operating principles of the Johannesburg minibus taxi industry are ‘contra-constitutional’ – they violate taxi drivers’ labour rights and the human rights of drivers, passengers, and other road users.
As a solution to the unaddressed issues, Randall looked to the Vision Zero philosophy, which originated in Sweden in the 1990s and is premised on the view that no loss of life is ethically acceptable.
“Operationally, Vision Zero manifests in the Safe System approach to road safety, which assigns responsibilities both to road users and to system designers.”
She added that the theory recognises that human beings are frail and that they make mistakes, and it is the job of the road traffic system to protect users from the consequences of these two realities.