An investigation into the tragic Pongola accident that killed 21 people, mainly children, has found the driver to be at fault, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula announced on Thursday.
The Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) led the probe after the truck collided with a bakkie ferrying school learners on Friday last week. Nineteen children and two adults, the driver of the bakkie and an assistant teacher, lost their lives.
Addressing the media, Mbalula said the report found that the truck driver overtook multiple vehicles, where no-overtaking lines prohibited this action and are dangerous and unlawful.
“This driver recklessly overtook vehicles and drove on the oncoming lane for approximately 1.2 kilometres. These vehicles had to swerve out of the way of the approaching truck,” the Minister said.
The driver, who fled the scene following the accident, did not return to his correct lane, according to the report. However, he continued driving against oncoming traffic, risking the lives of other motorists.
“The report concludes that driver error is the major contributing factor to the root cause of the road crash.”
Mbalula said transporting learners at the back of the light-duty vehicle (LDV) was also illegal and “extremely” dangerous.
According to the Minister, Regulation 250 of the National Road Traffic Act of 1996, forbids the transportation of learners or any other person in the goods compartment of a motor vehicle for reward.
He told the media that the report will now be handed over to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Senior Public Prosecutor for their consideration.
Meanwhile, the police are still investigating the criminal case of culpable homicide against the 28-year-old driver, Sibusiso Siyaya, who appeared at the Pongola Magistrate’s Court on Monday.
“As part of our efforts to make our roads safer, we are putting in place several measures to reinforce current interventions.”
The Minister said the government was strengthening law enforcement interventions.
In the meantime, he said the RTMC will immediately deploy the KwaZulu-Natal Road Transport Inspectorate and Local Municipality Traffic to the identified hotspots.
“Deployment of the National Traffic Police on an ad hoc basis to assist the province informed by the analysis of traffic statistics to identify areas with insufficient traffic policing capacity.”
The entity will also implement compulsory stopping of trucks at certain intervals to ensure speed reduction and considerate driving towards other road users.
“These interventions will be underpinned by an approach that concentrates on vehicle and driver fitness.”
The province is also committed to the visibility of traffic police officers throughout the year.
To ensure that companies that own trucks adhere to strict compliance with the law, he said the Transport MEC should appoint an investigator to gather any evidence regarding the state of fitness of a motor vehicle.
“The investigator is empowered to obtain additional information relating to vehicle and driver fitness, which includes trends about traffic offences committed by drivers, hours drivers drive a day and roadworthiness of vehicles.”
In addition, he said government was considering introducing regulations to strengthen the current rules relating to the operation of trucks on a public road, the construction and equipment of such vehicles and the conditions on which they may be operated.
In bolstering law enforcement activities in the province, Mbalula said all mobile testing centres in the possession of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport will be deployed immediately in the N2 Pongola area and visibility of traffic law enforcement officers will be intensified.
They will provide additional capacity on the road where the incident occurred by widening the existing roadway, bridges and culverts.
“This will go a long way in improving safety for all road users,” he said, adding that the estimated cost of the project is R2.5 billion.
Source: South African Government News Agency