Coega helps make SA’s roads safer
‘Glorified computer game’ doing more to train safe drivers than all other efforts
AS corporate social investment programmes go, teaching people how to drive by playing a glorified computer game doesn’t sound all that impressive.
But Coega Development Corporation CEO Pepi Silinga’s mission to train safer drivers has done more to promote road safety, in especially the Eastern Cape and KZN, than all the government programmes to date.
Bear in mind that South Africa’s official total annual road death toll of 14 000 means on average 38 people die each day — eight in ten because of poor decisions by drivers.
Arrive Alive states South Africa’s road mortality ratio of 28 per 100 000 citizens is the worst in the world, and vehicle crashes are also the largest unnatural killer of children in South Africa.
Striving to make any difference to these grim statistics — however small — is therefore laudable, but Silinga’s challenge to his staff to find a way to train safer drivers is not making just a small difference.
Since the simulator driving programme started in 2011, Coega has provided a free grounding in defensive driving techniques to over 10 300 people. As I can testify after trying to safely overtake on simulator, that are 10 300 new drivers who will never be tempted to compete in the stupid driver’s favourite sport on the N2 — overtaking on a blind rise. Each time you try to slip past the slow truck on the simulator, you get taken out in a head-on crash that leaves all students with very clear rules of what is possible and what is not.
Coega’s driving programme manager Alf Settle told me people of all ages who use the free facilities at 15 centres (two of which are in KZN), pass their K53 driver’s licence tests in half the time.
Thinking myself an old hand at this driving stuff, I sat down in the Chinese simulator full of confidence and started the engine.
“You have already lost 25 points of a 100,” Settle gently pointed out. “You did not close the door, you are not wearing your seatbelt and you started the car in gear,” he added, pointing to the small symbolic door that forms part of the simulator.
At the head office in Coega there are 41 simulators that teach new drivers how to drive as per the K53 defensive driving techniques.
A monotone female voice drily points out each error, and the computer makes you try each phase over and over until you get it right.
Settle said the simulators cost about R80 000 each, which were the cheapest, but best units they could find, and his office is now researching simulators to also train truckers, tractor drivers and forklift operators.
The robust simulators currently used to train the old Code 8 drivers train up to four groups of 40 students for two-hour sessions, most of them interns at Coega.
All the units have manual transmissions, but there are also seven units fitted with automatic gearboxes and accelerator levers to enable drivers with amputated legs to drive.
Most of these learner drivers have never even held a steering wheel and in their excitement to do well, the main item that often requires repairing is keys turned off in the ignition.
There is also no opportunity for corruption as both the simulator learner driver testing as well as training are provided gratis, at all centres, even to members of the community.
“No money changes hands,” Settle said.
A student learning to start, change gears and stop a car in ‘the yard’ of Coega’s driver simulator.