Drivers in the minibus-taxi industry are faced with various challenges, which sometimes lead to reckless driving. We look at the ongoing study by Lee Randall, at the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics and Health Law, at the University of the Witwatersrand, and discover alarming findings regarding road safety in Johannesburg.

According to Arrive Alive, there were 201 accidents and 291 fatalities involving minibus taxis in 2013. The number decreased in 2015, resulting in 191 accidents and 84 fatalities. However, that does not excuse the high levels of ongoing malpractice in the industry.

According to the government, there are more than 200 000 minibus taxis on the road, with some 5,4-million journeys made daily. The taxi industry generates about R40 billion per year and has created approximately 300 000 job opportunities. The industry should, therefore, have a robust approach to ensure safety on the roads.

The study in question focused on the behaviour of drivers and road safety in the Johannesburg minibus-taxi industry. Fifty minibus-taxi drivers in 20 ranks were surveyed to find out about their working conditions and how those could influence their driving habits.

Most common road laws violations

In the study: Coffins on Wheels: A bioethical study of working conditions, driver behaviour and road safety in the Johannesburg minibus-taxi industry, Randall reveals that driver-related factors play a big role in crashes in general.

“Many taxi drivers acknowledge that they break the law, but they point out that this is strongly related to their working conditions and the pressure they experience in trying to earn their livelihoods,” notes Randall.

Cause of crashes 

Randall says that excessive working hours and fatigue are huge crash risks. Having highly fatigued drivers transporting a dozen or more people at a time is an unacceptable safety breach. Randall mentions that there are reports on taxi drivers who work while intoxicated. The other violations revealed in the study include driving taxis that are old.

She explains: “While about a quarter of the survey respondents report that they drive taxis that are less than five years old, 50 percent drive taxis that are five to 11 years old, and another quarter drive taxis older than 11 years.”

The other alarming issue is vehicles driven with defects. “The most common are problems with headlights, windscreens, doors, seats, tyres and brakes,” she adds.

The Killer Quantum widely used 

Another finding indicates that the vast majority of drivers use vehicles that are not designed to carry passengers.

Randall comments: “Media reports a while back referenced ‘Killer Quantums’; Toyota Quantum panel vans that some taxi owners had inappropriately converted to minibus taxis, since the panel vans are cheaper to purchase. The problem is that the floors are not sufficiently reinforced. As a result, injuries that occur during crashes can be amplified, due to the seats coming loose from their moorings.”

Unfair pay and working hours

The study suggests that the sectoral determination introduced for the taxi sector in 2012 has had an effect, as the majority of the drivers involved in the study reported receiving a weekly wage as opposed to a small portion of the day’s takings.

“On average, a driver earns R3 000 to R4 000 per month, which works out to an extremely low hourly rate when considering that most drivers reported working 15 hours per day. Their effective hourly earnings are well below the minimum wage specified in the sectoral determination, and even further below the new national minimum wage of R20 per hour, which is being introduced this year.

“The Department of Labour (DoL) should be intervening to bring the drivers’ working conditions into line with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) and their wages in line with the sectoral determination,” she says.

Formal employment needed

Randall comments that of all the drivers she surveyed, only a third have employment contracts and payslips, which are legally required. “By law, the taxi owners are also supposed to pay UIF contributions and Workmen’s Compensation premiums. The research suggested that this seldom happens.”

There are many other violations that contribute to road accidents. These include drivers not being paid for annual or sick leave and other responsibilities, which are covered in the BCEA.

More can be done by government and the
DoL, together with drivers and taxi associations, to improve safety and working conditions for minibus-taxi drivers in Gauteng. Randall suggests that driver training would help.

“The National Transport and Safety Authority in Kenya introduced a detailed driver training curriculum, which contains a specific section for drivers of public-service vehicles including minibus taxis.

“The training covers a range of topics including: how to inspect a vehicle, controlling the vehicle, how to render first aid, how to drive defensively and how to give good customer service.

“I think we need something similar in South Africa, and the drivers who were part of the study expressed willingness to participate,” she concludes.

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