Shocking statistics on unroadworthy and unlicensed vehicles emerge at the corruption trial of a testing-centre employee.

Almost one in 10 vehicles on South Africa’s roads is unroadworthy and unlicensed — and a major contributing factor to the estimated R50-billion carnage on the country’s roads each year.

These statistics emerged at the corruption trial of an employee at a testing centre in Durban, who sold roadworthy certificates for cars and taxis he had not even seen for as little as R100.

Nelson Ganes, a former employee at Durban Roadworthy, a private testing company that issues certificates of road worthiness (CRWs), pleaded guilty to 41 counts of corruption for accepting bribes totalling R4700.

The Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) report that was handed in at the Durban Regional Court during Ganes’s pre-sentencing hearing also shows that:

  • The number of unroadworthy and unlicensed vehicles on SA roads increased by 21% to 919657 at the end of June this year from 761669 a year ago;
  • There were 12339 fatal crashes between June 2007 and June 2008; and;
  • More than 14 000 people died as a result of accidents (pedestrians etc) during the same period;
  • Gauteng has the most unlicensed or unroadworthy vehicles, with 371785, followed by KwaZulu-Natal with 134541 and the Western Cape with 111761.

There are more than 10 million registered vehicles in SA and the cost of accidents has more than quadrupled in four years to R45-billion from R10-billion.

Unroadworthy vehicles are defined as those not submitted for compulsory tests or to record a change of ownership at any one of the transport department’s 410 testing stations or 180 private testing companies.

Of the nearly one million unlicensed or unroadworthy vehicles in June this year, 434080 were cars, 58490 minibus taxis, 5965 buses, 56675 trucks and 21780 heavy trailers.

RTMC spokesman Ntau Letebele said the Special Investigating Unit had been tasked by the Department of Transport and the RTMC to investigate stolen vehicles being registered on eNatis, the fraudulent issuing of drivers’ licences and other forms of corruption.

“To date 212 traffic officials are under investigation and 82 of those have been arrested,” he said.

Testifying at his trial, Ganes said he was paid between R100 and R150 for each certificate he issued between 2006 and January this year, when he was arrested.

A senior traffic official in KwaZulu-Natal said unroadworthy vehicles played a big role in accidents and that the situation had worsened since the privatisation of testing centres.

He said it was a “multimillion-rand industry” and that certificates were in some cases illegally issued anywhere in the country to any province.

“Vehicles in KZN can get certificates from Gauteng; in fact all you need is a phone, computer and fax machine. Once you have paid the money and sent the deposit slip to the company, you can get your certificate from Gauteng or anywhere in the country.”

The official said that in one case 600 vehicles from northern KwaZulu-Natal were issued CRWs by a Gauteng testing company that did not inspect any of them.

Wally Cracknell, the founding member of the National Vehicle Testing Association, said the law only required CRW testing if there was a change of vehicle ownership or if the vehicle was sold. The association was involved in discussions to also introduce periodic testing, he said.

Last week some Cape Town parents of children who survived a bus crash during a school outing instituted a class action against Dennegeur primary School, the Western Cape department of Education and the bus company, Leandra Transport.

They claim the bus company failed to comply with safety standards and was unroadworthy and are now demanding more than R5-million in damages.

Three pupils and the bus driver died and a further 40 children were injured when the bus’s brakes failed en route to Table Mountain in 2005. — Additional reporting by Nashira Davids, Philani Nombembe and Biénne Huisman

  • The number of unroadworthy and unlicenced vehicles (or both) on our roads increased by 21% from 761 669 at the end of June 2007 to 919 657 at the end of June this year;
  • There was 12 339 fatal crashes (fatalities during or after accidents) nationally between June 2007 and June 2008;
  • More than 14 000 people died as a result of accidents (pedestrians etc) during the same period;

Gauteng has the most number of unlicenced or unroadworthy (or both) vehicles at 371 785 followed by KZN at 134 541and the Western Cape at 111 761;

As of June 2008 the number of unlicenced or unroadworthy (or both) vehicles were classified as: 434 080 cars, 58 490 mini bus taxis, 5965 buses, 56 675 trucks and 21 780 heavy trailers.

Unroadworthy vehicles are defined as those in which owners failed to submit for compulsory roadworthy tests, prove their vehicles were safe or record change of ownership at any one of the transport department’s 410 testing stations and 180 private testing companies.

A senior control prosecutor said these type of reports were usually handed in during aggravation of sentencing to demonstrate “the prevalence of the crime and the magnitude of corruption at the moment.”

While some prosecutors said they often used individuals who paid bribes as state witnesses, a traffic official said that this was not done in all cases.

He said that 99% of drivers convicted on bribery or corruption charges were handed down suspended sentences and harsher sentences were necessary against them.

This kind of report, said a senior regional court magistrate was necessary in assisting the courts to arrive at an appropriate sentence.

“We need this information to show the prevalence of the crime and it helps in handing down a sentence that will act as a deterrent.”

He added that motorists who pay bribes should be punished but were often used as state witnesses and therefore exempt from prosecution.

“It puts the state in a difficult position; who should they prosecute the big fish or the little fish?”

Stuart Farrow, the DA representative on the Portfolio Committee on Transport said drivers who obtained fraudulent CRWs were in contravention of the law.

“They are putting the lives of other people in danger on the roads. The onus is on the driver or that owner to ensure the vehicle is in good condition otherwise its like going around with a gun with safety cock off.

“It’s that dangerous. The public transport entity requires CRWs issued with operating licences but some of those guys leave the depot in many instances with new tyres on and the minute the certificate is given to them, they give some else the new tyres and put old ones back on.

“The AA has asked that every time a vehicle goes in for a licence it should also be subject to a CRW after a three year warranty period. It should be done together with the licencing process.”

Ntau Letebele spokesman for the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) said the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) was tasked by the department of transport and RTMC to investigate cases of registration of stolen vehicles on eNatis, fraudulent issuing of driver’s licence and other forms of corruption.

“To date 212 traffic officials are under investigation for fraud and corruption. And 82 of those have been arrested,” he said.

A senior traffic official said unroadworthy vehicles played a substantial role in accidents on SA roads and that since the privatisation of testing centres, the situation had worsened.

He said it was a “multi-million industry and that certificates could be issued anywhere in the country to any province”.

“Vehicles in KZN can get certificates from Gauteng, in fact all you need is a phone, computer, and fax machine. Once you have paid the money, send the deposit slip to the company and you can get your certificate from Gauteng or anywhere in the country without leaving your desk.

He said there was a recent case in which 600 vehicles from Gauteng were issued with CRWs by a northern KZN testing company which had not inspected the cars.

“Today that certificate means nothing. When the province ran testing centres, it was worth something. Now’s it a joke.”

In KZN since 2003, seven testing centres have been shut-down and out of the 63 centres in KZN, a vast majority are private.

“In the old days, the motorist would have to repair their vehicles to bring up to standard but now you can just buy it. It is major problem and the situation is disastrous,” he said.

RTMC chief executive Ranthoko Rakgoale said they were busy with a strategy, The Road Traffic Safety Management Plan, to be implemented in 2014.

He said provincial workshops will be held next month to address road safety issues and solutions.

“There is also a road side testing planned to ensure that vehicles are roadworthy,” he added.

Wally Cracknell founding member of National Vehicle Testing Association (NVTA) said the current law only required CRW testing during change of ownership or when the vehicle was sold.

He said the association were involved in discussions to introduce periodic testing.

Cracknell said it was difficult to pinpoint the percentage of unroadworthy vehicles involved in accidents and that most accidents cited driver error instead of checking the vehicle.

“There rarely is an investigation into the cause of the accidents, it’s an expensive exercise.

“Some insurance companies though insist on it and send out private investigators to determine the cause,” he said.

Insurance companies agree that unroadworthy vehicles are a major contributor to the disaster on our roads.

Dial Direct’s Bradley Du Chenne said: “Unroadworthy vehicles are definitely a problem and there are lots of claims we don’t pay because of it. Majority of them or the most frequent reasons for rejecting a claim is tyres that are not roadworthy. Unroadworthy vehicles are a problem for the whole insurance industry really.”

While Max Huggins, head of claims, MiWay Car Insurance said: “I think one of the biggest issues in the country is the condition of tyres [worn out] that contribute to accidents.

“We have dealt with tyres in claims, we check them in every claim to see that they have enough treads. We have not had a really bad experience with vehicles but I think where the problem possibly lies is that most of the cars that are unroadworthy are not insured.”

Arrive Alive spokesman, Tshepo Machaea described the most unroadworthy car he had come across in the Eastern Cape: it had no petrol tank-instead a container filled with petrol on the passenger’s seat, no accelerator, indicators or lights and none of the electrically operated parts worked.

Machaea said in addition the vehicle was not registered and the driver was unlicenced, having to pay a fine of R3000.

He said unroadworthy vehicles is a major problem in the rural parts of the Eastern Cape and they were often fined when they went into urban areas.

Three years ago in between Idutywa and Collywobbles in the Eastern Cape a man used an unroadworthy Toyota Stallion to transport ten people. There was a problem with the door all 10 people died because they couldn’t get out.

Last week parents of the surviving children instituted a class action against Dennegeur Primary School, the Western Cape Department of Education and the bus company, Leandra Transport.

They claim the bus company failed to comply with safety standards before transporting the children, was unroadworthy and are now demanding more than R5-million in damages.

Spokesman for the department of Transport Collen Msibi said in terms of the Road Traffic Act, testing centres had to be checked every year and the South African Bureau of Standards were contracted to do that.

“Over and above that we do random inspections at centres and we do regular audits of the eNatis system especially when there are peaks.” — Additional reporting by Nashira Davids, Philani Nombembe, Bienne Huisman