Last week a massive accident on the outgoing N1 highway in Cape Town caused traffic chaos that resulted in some motorists spending up to four hours jammed in their plush air-conditioned, leather-encased cocoons waiting for the whole mess to ease up. There were irate calls to radio stations, emotional rants on social networks and lots of gnashing of teeth.
The thing about Cape Town’s road network is that it kinda works, when everything is perfectly in balance, but like a house of cards, you just need one screw up and the whole thing falls spectacularly apart at the seems.
So who lied then?
We’ve always been told that cars represent freedom and status. How is it that now that driving a car means traffic, road rage, death, E-tolls, petrol price hikes, debt and lots of frustration? Luxury it seems comes at a price that wasn’t listed in the fine print when the cheesy salesman sold us our 2 litre dream, our addiction to the easy and convenient option hasn’t exactly played out like we envisioned.
Modern life is possible thanks to efficient processes, mechanisation and scale. The same way affordable chickens are processed in a giant factory and information of convenience is fed mindlessly through enormous server farms, road networks filled with cars are today just human pipelines of luxury. Once people are addicted to the comfort and power, you’ve got them hooked and life without their fix is unimaginable.
Just for some perspective, our car addiction is causing the death of 1200 South Africans each month – that’s the equivalent of three Boeing 747’s crashing and killing everyone on board every month. Yet newspaper headlines ignore this and rather focus on two cyclists getting mugged of their bicycles in Pretoria, which is enough to cause society to recoil in fear and vow never to think of any alternative means of transport other than our trusty cars, because it’s too dangerous.
Our response to the carnage is irrational as is our blind slavery to convenience. Salvation lies in a new mindset and a collective rethink of the norms that we unconsciously just swallow as fact. Sadly as things stand now, Pink Floyd nailed it when they wrote; I…Have become comfortably numb…
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown
The dream is gone
I… Have become comfortably numb