There's only one version of the truth

When I received an email from a biker on Monday 23 May 2016, I could hardly believe what I was reading. 

The motorcyclist’s version is that on Friday 20 May 2016, a SANRAL employee in a marked double-cab bakkie with one of those fancy red light bars on its roof attempted to kill, or at the very least, cause serious harm to him.

I am really surprised that this incident has received no media coverage at all but I suspect that this is about to change now.

Anyone who knows me will know that, whilst I am inclined to typically take the side of victims of abusive behaviour by officials, I will always actively seek the truth and get both versions. This incident is no different.

Motorcyclists are amongst the most vulnerable road users on the road and are furthermore the most vulnerable among all other motor vehicle classes. Therefore, it should be understandable why they would seek to keep their distance from other motor vehicles. It’s illegal for them to do so, but scores of them ride in the far right hard shoulder, to the right of the road edge marking.

The biker’s version of what happened…

At or about 07:45 on Friday 20 May 2016, the 59 year-old biker was riding his BMW R1200GS motorcycle to the right of the edge marking on the N1 North between the Malibongwe and William Nicol exits when allegedly, suddenly and without warning, a marked SANRAL double-cab Ford Ranger bakkie came tearing across the five lanes there, from the far left shoulder lane (most often referred to as the “emergency lane”) and forced him into the concrete division barrier between the Northbound and Southbound sections of the freeway.

Although the biker saw him coming, he says the rapid rate at which the bakkie crossed the freeway left him with no time to react and he and his motorcycle were trapped between the bakkie and the barrier for a distance of around 40 metres until the bakkie came to a halt.

Both of his feet were trapped, the right between the bike and the concrete barrier, the left between the bike and the bakkie.

The driver climbed out of the bakkie, shouted at him for riding in the “emergency lane”, then walked away to use his cell phone. The biker pleaded for help to get his feet free, but was ignored by the driver as well as the two passengers in the bakkie. A bystander then assisted him in getting free.

A JMPD car with 3 occupants who had witnessed the incident stopped and took control of the scene, putting out traffic cones and directing traffic; which the SANRAL employees failed to do.

One of the metro police officers took the names, licence details etc. from the drivers, passengers and witnesses. The biker was, in the meantime, transported by Emer-G-Med to Sunninghill Hospital for treatment.

He was treated for multiple lacerations and a broken left hand, and discharged from hospital later that afternoon. He’s lucky to have gotten away with such minor injuries since he could quite easily have sustained serious injuries to his legs had he not been riding the BMW which has a “boxer engine” with its cylinders protruding to the left and right of a motorcyclists legs. His motorcycle is a write-off, having sustained extensive engine, frame and body damage.

Although SAPS were not particularly cooperative in taking his complaint, which I might add is becoming all too common these days, on Saturday 21 May, the biker laid charges of attempted murder, malicious damage to property and reckless or negligent driving with SAPS and he has received a CAS number from the police station in question.

TETI Traffic (Pty) Ltd’s version of what happened…

Anyone who knows SANRAL will know that, despite vehicles being branded in their regalia, that State Owned Corporation directly employs a mere handful of people (some 200 according to SANRAL).

Almost every part of the “services” on the GFIP are contracted out to private “service providers” and the incident management services on the GFIP appears to be no exception, hence this version coming from TETI Traffic (Pty) Ltd.

TETI alleges that the driver of the SANRAL branded bakkie was responding to a crash which had occurred in the “inner fast lane” (whatever that is supposed to be) further on and that its employee was responding to it in order to go and secure the scene.

They allege that the driver has admitted that he did not look in his rear view or side mirrors and did not do his observations prior to changing lanes, but had switched on his red flashing lights and siren and proceeded from the far left to the far right “emergency lanes” in order to do this. This is an admission of guilt to both, reckless and negligent driving.

They allegedly further claim that their driver “assisted the biker in slowing down” [by colliding with him], thus preventing him from crashing into the crash scene further on, but offer no explanation whatsoever as to why their driver and crew did not secure the crash scene their driver caused and did not assist the injured motorcyclist.

They furthermore accuse JPSA of “spreading misinformation” because of a tweet I authored on Tuesday 24 May.

I have asked TETI Traffic’s Operations Manager to furnish their driver’s sworn affidavit, as well as the HCPSA registration certificate relating to the medic who should have been in this vehicle to me, but at the time of going to press, he has failed to do either.

Three sides to every story…

It’s almost always true that there are three sides to every story – one person’s version, the other person’s version, and the truth. This case is no exception.

Since I am not of the habit of simply swallowing one person’s version, I have gone to the trouble of speaking to an independent witness to this collision. While I was establishing these facts, unbeknown to me another person I know had consulted with TETI to get their version and this has saved me the need to have done so, which incidentally, was to be the next step in JPSA’s enquiries into this incident.

This independent witness’ version of the events just so happens to have fully corroborated the biker’s version and his sworn statement is to be filed to assist the Court in adjudicating this matter. Interestingly, his version further contradicts TETI’s driver’s version since he states that the flow of traffic was normal (around 80km/h) for that time of the morning on the N1, upon which he drives every single workday.

The only legitimate arbiter

There is only one legitimate arbiter to matters of criminality, and that arbiter is a properly constituted Court of Law. Due to the fact that reckless or negligent driving is a criminal offence, this matter must come before a criminal Court.

This said, public opinion cannot be discounted and you will never be able to stop people from having an opinion, particularly in the age of social media.

I am not aware of any official media statement having been made by TETI Traffic and/or SANRAL relating to this incident but I would not be in the least bit surprised if they do issue an official statement after this story breaks in the mainstream media.

Fortunately for all concerned, our Courts do not rely on spin and/or subjective opinion but merely take the facts into account. It is therefore an absolute must that this matter must be heard by the Court.

My take on this matter

I am more inclined to accept the version of the motorcyclist and the independent witness, not merely because of my inherent dislike for SANRAL’s cowboys, but because the unaltered photographic evidence which has been presented clearly shows that the motorcycle was pinned between the concrete barrier and the SANRAL/TETI Traffic vehicle.

The person depicted in the one photo is a paramedic from Emer-G-Med, not the motorcyclist or any of the “SANRAL” staff.

It is abundantly clear that the bakkie was not moved to the left in order to assist the motorcyclist in getting free and the scrape marks on the concrete barrier appear to indicate that it took around 40 metres for the vehicles to come to a halt.

In light of the statement from the one independent witness, as well as the biker’s version to the effect that traffic was flowing normally for that time in the morning, I find it very difficult to buy the story that there was a collision further on and that was why the SANRAL bakkie swerved across five lanes of traffic (seven if you take the “emergency lanes into account”).

This said, that freeway is monitored by CCTV which SANRAL likes to call its “cameras watching over you” and therefore there should be video footage showing both, the alleged crash ahead, as well as this crash and it will be interesting to see both.

Nonetheless, I find the statement that TETI’s driver “assisted the biker in slowing down” by colliding with him to be both, sarcastic and offensive in the extreme.

The biker was injured and could have been seriously injured or even killed had he not been riding a BMW motorcycle which has a “boxer engine” and protected his legs from serious injury at the very least.

I have repeatedly said that bikers should not be using the “suicide lane” to start with, but there is and can be no excuse whatsoever for the actions of this TETI Traffic employee. It was either gross negligence and reckless driving or a deliberate attempt to take the biker out.

It is the duty of the Metro Police, the Gauteng Traffic Police and the RTMC’s National Traffic Police to enforce road traffic laws on the GFIP and other public roads. It is also their duty to pay due care and regard for other traffic at all times, including but not limited to when they pursue and/or stop motorists for traffic violations.

It is NOT the job of SANRAL and/or its freeway management contractors to enforce traffic laws since NONE of them are qualified traffic officers. Even if they were, NO-ONE has the right to endanger the life of another road user, regardless of what mode of transport they are using!

In terms of the AARTO Act, riding in the right hand shoulder lane is the subject of a R500 fine (R250 if paid within 32 days). It is NOT an offence for which summary execution is authorised!

The easiest way to ensure greater compliance with the law is for traffic law enforcement authorities to enforce it – properly. But we all know that they don’t and that’s why there’s such mayhem on our roads.

Additionally, the reason those SANRAL vehicles are allowed to have and use red light bars in the first place is because they are all supposed to have at least one medic in them.

If that was the case in this incident then the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HCPSA) is going to get a strongly worded complaint against the medic for the dereliction of duty that person exhibited. If the vehicle didn’t however have a qualified and registered medic in it, then charges will be laid in terms of the National Road Traffic Act for the unauthorised use of red flashing lamps and that vehicle must be impounded, just like happens to civilians.

If a judicial officer finds TETI Traffic’s driver innocent, we will have to accept that verdict, but if he or she finds him guilty then I hope that driver faces the full might of the law and that TETI and/or SANRAL does the right thing and compensates the motorcyclist properly. They should also both avoid trying to spin their justifications for this incident and rather concentrate on trying to repair their truly awful reputation with motorists using all forms of transportation.

UPDATE:

At 16:25 on Friday 27 May, I received the following response from Mr Kwnale Simelane if TETI Traffic Management:

"GoodDay Mr Dembovsky 

Thank you for the email below. Please can you respectfully direct your request to SANRAL as the contractual employer of TETI Traffic and the registered owner of the vehicle involved. 

Kind regards, 

Kwanele"
  

I responded as follows:

"Dear Mr Simelane.

Thank you for your response, which I may add, I am somewhat bemused by.
   

Am I to understand that is now your stance that the persons operating SANRAL’s vehicles are not in fact your employees and that you have made averments to Mr Gwangwadza which you are not prepared to back up in your response to me? 

I have asked you for the sworn statement by your driver and for the HCPSA certificate of the medic in that vehicle, both of whom I respectfully submit it is reasonable to presume are your employees. I also respectfully submit that these were entirely reasonable requests. 

I shall of course comply with your request submit my request directly to SANRAL, whom I am pretty sure will refer me back to you. 

Best Regards, 

Howard Dembovsky"

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