Safety First: Rules of the road we often take for granted

BY MATTHEW KEMP - NOVEMBER 22, 2016

It is that time of the year again where we start unpacking the Christmas decorations, shopping until our feet hurt and packing the car to leave town for our chosen holiday destination. It is the festive season, which is also very often referred to as the “silly season.”

Tragically, the phrase is all too often associated with the numerous accidents we experience on our roads during this time of year. Here are some rules of the road to keep in mind this holiday season to avoid an unwanted and unnecessary accident.

1. Traffic circles.

There is a huge amount of confusion amongst drivers in South Africa regarding traffic circles. Essentially, the first thing to be aware of is that there are different types of traffic circles. The main difference is between an ordinary traffic circle / roundabout and a so-called “mini-circle.”

In an ordinary traffic circle, each driver must yield to the drivers coming from their right-hand side. Therefore, you must wait for the vehicles entering the circle from your right and wait for a break in the stream of traffic coming from that side until you can proceed into the circle.

The drivers on your left must then yield for you while you proceed around the circle. In mini circles, the rule is that each driver must yield to those already entering the circle. There is no rule to yield to drivers on your right, but rather a general duty to yield to drivers already crossing the barrier line into the circle.

Unfortunately, most people treat mini circles in the same way as ordinary traffic circles, which leads to confusion and (sometimes) accidents.

2. Be mindful of stray animals on the road.

Stray cattle, horses and other domesticated animals cause many accidents on our national roads. Farmers are under a duty to maintain their fences in good working order and take all reasonable precautions to prevent their animals from straying onto the road.

However, even if you do collide with stray cattle, the onus is on you to prove that the owner of such cattle failed in his duty to maintain the fence and you did not contribute to the accident by driving at an excessive speed.

3. Drive at a reasonable speed in the circumstances.

Although there are speed limits in place, the law is clear that in certain circumstances even if you drive the speed limit you may still be held to be negligent by driving at an excessive speed. You must have regard for the road conditions, the amount of traffic and other circumstances such as pedestrians and bends in the road.

4. You are only allowed to use the yellow emergency lane if you have a real emergency.

The only exception is if you are travelling on a single carriageway road with one lane in each direction.

In this case you are permitted to move into the emergency lane to allow faster moving vehicles to pass you. However, if you are moving aside to allow vehicles to pass, you may only do so during daytime hours - in other words between sunrise and sunset. By law you are required to make sure that you have at least 150m of visibility ahead before you move over into the emergency lane.

You are therefore not allowed to move into the emergency lane on a blind rise. Likewise, on an open road, if there is heavy rain, mist or fog that hinders visibility, the emergency lane is out of bounds as you may hit a stationery vehicle, or worse, a pedestrian.

5. When overtaking

The law requires you to make sure that you give enough lateral berth between your vehicle and the vehicle you are passing. You must also make sure that the vehicle in front of you is not indicating to turn right before you overtake.

If the vehicle is slowing down and showing signs of turning to the right, and you overtake, you may be held to be liable if an accident ensues. However, much will depend on the circumstances of each case.

The overriding rule on the road is to make sure that you keep a proper lookout and take all reasonable and necessary precautions to avoid colliding with other road users.

If you are involved in an accident, make sure that you exchange details with the other motorist/s involved in the accident, report it to the nearest police station, take photographs of the scene of the collision and advise your insurers immediately.

Matthew Kemp is an associate in our litigation department. For legal assistance contact him on 041 501 9801 or [email protected]