Coega helps make SA’s roads safer

‘Glo­ri­fied com­puter game’ do­ing more to train safe driv­ers than all other ef­forts

The Witness - Wheels - - FRONT PAGE - AL­WYN VILJOEN

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.

PHOTO: SUPPLIED

A stu­dent learn­ing to start, change gears and stop a car in ‘the yard’ of Coega’s driver sim­u­la­tor.

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