Changing weather causing havoc for road users

14 May 2024 Molebatsi Langa, head of strategic accounts at Old Mutual Insure
Molebatsi Langa, head of strategic accounts at Old Mutual Insure

Molebatsi Langa, head of strategic accounts at Old Mutual Insure

Drivers urged to act with caution given changing weather patterns

Extreme weather conditions, coupled with the deteriorating rate of South Africa’s roads, is creating a ‘perfect storm’ for road users. 

This is the view of Molebatsi Langa, head of strategic accounts at Old Mutual Insure, who says that the well-publicised impact of climate change and changing weather patterns is also putting drivers’ safety at risk. 

“We are noticing an increase in cases where people are stuck on the road in their vehicles during hailstorms or during flooding, who can’t get to a place of safety. While these are sometimes unavoidable situations, there are many things that drivers can do on the road during bad weather to help minimise the risk of the unthinkable from happening,” says Langa. 

Her comments are particularly apt this week given that it is Global Road Safety Week, running between May 10th to 14th 2024, an event by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to advocate for road safety and accident prevention globally. 

In April severe weather in Margate in KwaZulu-Natal saw a vehicle washed away during flooding, and one struck by lightning; this while many of the sleepy coastal town’s roads were washed away during the storms. In the same month, storms in Cape Town and surrounds also severely damaged infrastructure like roads. 

“Previously as insurers we would have noted that certain areas are more prone to road damage or where driver safety could be compromised because of bad weather, but lately, we're witnessing an increase in volatility and frequency in weather-related impact across the country, and so it is not isolated to a specific area,” says Langa. 

She says that besides extreme weather, poorly maintained road infrastructure and congestion are also to blame for drivers experiencing safety issues on the roads. “The infrastructure is not able to handle the pressure on the road stemming from an increased number of vehicles on them,” says Langa. 

But, she says, there still lots of mistakes that drivers make, and driver behaviour is a key element impacting road safety. Speeding, distracted driving like using cellphones, or driving under the influence of alcohol, are some examples. 

“One of the key measures road users can take is to ensure that their car is in a good, roadworthy condition, so that if they find themselves stuck in a situation, they are less likely to cause severe damage to their vehicles,” says Langa. 

She adds that advancement in automotive safety is helping drivers address safety issues on the roads, for example, early detection to avoid potholes or to veer off safely when in danger, car warnings when drivers exceed the speed limit, as well as the use of car cameras and dashcams.   

Promoting safer roads for everyone is one of the reasons Old Mutual Insure sponsored the prestigious 2024 South African Car of the Year (COTY) competition, presented by the South African Guild of Mobility Journalists (SAGMJ), for the second consecutive year. The competition recently concluded and announced the BMW 7 Series as the ultimate winner. Its safety features include innovative driver assistance systems, such as steering and lane control assistant, Lane keeping assistant with active side collision protection, Rear collision prevention and Crossing traffic warning functions have been added to the Driving Assist Plus system. Meanwhile, the Traffic jam assistant – which involves semi-automated driving – can be used on any type of road. 

“By promoting road safety and responsible driving, we can all work together to reduce the number of accidents on the roads and help avoid costly insurance claims,” says Langa. 

Below are Langa’s top tips on the steps that policyholders can take to improve the road safety of them, their families, and other road users: 

  1. Regularly check your vehicle's roadworthiness, including tire pressure and brake functionality, to ensure optimal safety on the road.
  2. Maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you to allow for ample reaction time, especially in the event of sudden braking.
  3. Exercise caution when driving on poorly maintained roads or during severe weather conditions by reducing speed accordingly.
  4. Be mindful of other motorists' behaviour, avoiding sudden swerves and instead, slowing down gradually to navigate around potholes or obstacles safely.
  5. Cars with improved safety technology can assist drivers during difficult conditions on the roads.
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