• A BUSY YEAR: The issues surrounding Gauteng e-tolls dominated this year

  • South African automotive manufacturing and exports have been strong again this year

  • Road safety in general was again a concern this year and will demand even greater attention next year

FOR those of us who commentate on the issues affecting the motorist, 2012 has been a very interesting year; full of controversy at times but full of optimism too as South Africa’s evolution continues.

Regardless of where you are in the country there is no escaping the hot topic this year and that is again e-tolling. The recent protest action led by Cosatu did more than just highlight the subject of e-tolls, it brought the people of Gauteng together. The ruling party would do well to realise that those complaining about the e-toll project are existing or potential voters.

However the e-toll debate is not simply about the cost of the tolls or the exorbitant cost of collecting them. It is about the priorities of a government that appears to have lost touch with its electorate and which appears to have a policy of collecting money and self-enrichment rather than putting the genuine needs of the public first.

To date the government continues to refuse to ring fence the fuel levy and, as we all know, a simple 9c/l increase would cover the cost of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Programme. Instead the government takes the cash we all spend at the pumps and channels it into other non-related projects.

The cost of fuel is higher than it has ever been and yet the government and the petrol companies continue to argue about who is going to pay for the improvements to the quality of our fuel.

Spokespeople make PR speeches about why we should buy more fuel-efficient cars yet the high quality fuel for these cars is only going to start trickling through in a few years’ time. Bizarrely, we have to pay a CO2 tax that is such a blatantly false PR exercise it is laughable.

Once again a matter that should be on the top of the agenda is that of road safety. Road accidents cost the economy billions every year, not to mention the tragedy of tens of thousands of lives lost.

If the government effectively prioritises road safety through law enforcement and efficient infrastructure then the money the Treasury saves can be channelled back into developing world class roads that we can feel safe on.

It is time to get back to basics, make road safety a topic in schools and tighten up the scourge of corrupt driving schools and testing centres. The taxi industry needs to understand that it has a vital role to play here too.

If you grow up seeing the example a taxi driver sets on your route to school then that is how you are going to drive. It is all part of a bigger picture that needs to be looked at.

Many of our children also travel to school daily by bus and the statistics this year have been alarming. Whether it is a school bus or any form of public transport, law enforcement and driver training need to be prioritised here. Our children should not be maimed or lose their lives because of the negligence of others.

Mentioning driving standards brings me to trucks and in particular truck drivers. The recent strike provided a great deal of insight into many of the issues facing South Africa but the drivers need to understand that if they want to be respected and earn a commensurate salary, they cannot behave like hooligans.

They have a huge amount of responsibility. Fortunately many truck drivers understand this and plenty of transport companies and organisations are working hard to improve the situation and we have seen major improvements this year already.

Corruption too is something which has continued to affect the motorist as part of a wider national issue. While it is clear that government needs to get its house in order as a matter of urgency, if people continue to pay bribes and look the other way then the situation will be perpetuated.

If you pay a bribe you are as guilty as those who solicit and accept one.

It is of course not all bad news and the industry has seen an increase in car sales and vehicle exports. BMW has increased productivity to satisfy its export programme for the 3 Series and others such as Toyota, Volkswagen, Ford and Mercedes-Benz are showing the world how good our manufacturing base can be.

There are great export stories in the truck and bus industry too and South Africa has the opportunity to become a major manufacturing base for the rest of Africa as the continent becomes one of the world’s greatest growth areas.

At the same time the industry needs to find a way to increase sales of locally built cars. What happened to buying proudly South African? Around 60% of the cars we buy are imported and in part this is because there is no financial incentive to buy local.

Next year will see at least 97 new models being launched, further increasing the number of choices available. It will be an interesting year as new innovations in efficiency and technology arrive on our shores. We hope that infrastructure can keep up but regardless of that, the developments across all areas of the market will definitely be exciting.

Overall this has been a great year for the automotive industry in South Africa. It has even been beneficial in some respects for the motorist with lower interest rates and increased affordability.

There are plenty of causes for concern but each and every one of us has the power to make changes and contribute to a collective difference in 2013.

If you grow up seeing the example a taxi driver sets on your route to school, that is how you are going to drive