It is just before 6am on Friday and my mobile phone pings. I reach for it, and the familiar Soteria logo heralds a problem on the N2 motorway. “Crash: N2 Inbound at Baden Powell Drive. Lane is obstructed. Please stay alert as traffic slows down considerably here. View via traffic cams,” reads the alert, and I tap the URL below, which opens a snapshot from one of the freeway management system’s traffic cameras close to the problem location, and sure enough the traffic is backed up and calling at a snail’s pace.
As the morning unfolds, further updates about the state of the N2, the R300 and the N1 appear, but thankfully I’m not driving into Cape Town today, so I won’t be affected by the mayhem that usually inflicts our roads during peak hours.
This invaluable information, comes courtesy of Soteria, an app available on Android and iPhone, the latest communication medium of the Safe Freeway Project, which first saw life as the N2 Convoy Group back in 2015.
What started as a community project by Somerset West people who travel to and from Cape Town every day, who sought safety in numbers by meeting at specific times and locations and driving in convoy too and from Cape Town, has grown into an organisation that monitors most major roadways in the Cape Peninsula and provides regular updates to its subscribers, from 5am to 9pm Mondays to Fridays, and 9am to 5pm on Saturdays.
“We quickly graduated from the convoy system to a WhatsApp-based broadcasting system, which we ran from six mobile devices sponsored by the Vodacom Shop in Strand, to today where we have a permanent control room at the Engen One Stop on the N2 sponsored by the owner, Kobus Pretorius,” says project manager, Neil Slater. “It has truly been a community project with amazing support.”
The Soteria app is the latest incarnation in the Safe Freeway Projects drive to keep subscribers fully informed of traffic conditions on a number of roadways on which they might travel, and to provide them with access to immediate assistance in the event of an emergency while treavelling. The WhatsApp-based system will remain in effect for the foreseeable future, but subscribers are encouraged to switch to the Soteria app because of its flexibility and the many features which it offers subscribers, according to Mr Slater.
“With the WhatsApp-based system, subscribers get all of the broadcasts from the control room for all of the roadways we monitor,” says Mr Slater, “but with the Soteria app, you are able to select only those roadways – broadcast channels – which are of interest to you and on which you might be travelling.”
In addition to being able to monitor broadcast channels for the regulars in which you travel, Soteria also has a powerful instant messaging system which allows subscribers to set up groups of users who can communicate with each other real time using the app.
“A good example,” says Mr Slater, “is a family group, all of whom have the Soteria app, or perhaps a virtual convoy group of people who regularly travel to and from Cape Town at the same times during the week. “This allows instant communication from within the Soteria app but with the added advantage of regular traffic and security updates on the routes on which they travel,” says Mr Slater.
Another powerful feature is Watch Over Me (WOM). Soteria users can add other registered users – typically family and friends whom they can call on for assistance in an emergency while travelling – to their personal profile in the WOM group. When departing on a journey, the user activates the WOM feature, which immediately alerts all their WOM users that they are on the move. Anybody in that user’s WOM group can monitor the user’s progress, and if there is an emergency, Soteria can establish the users location and pinpointed on a map.
All Soteria users can communicate directly with the Safe Freeway Project control room during hours that it is manned, either to elicit further information, or to provide feedback on traffic and road conditions. “In the WhatsApp-based system, subscribers can send voice notes to the control room, a facility that we hope to introduce to the Soteria app in the near future,” explains Mr Slater.
Aside from the Soteria groups and the WOM feature, all Soteria’s subscribers receive live updates on the broadcast channels which they have selected. Mr Slater says subscribers are encouraged to request new roadways which they travel frequently be added to the monitoring system. “It is a dynamic system, and we want to provide a monitoring service for the roadways that our users travel on most frequently.”
The Safe Freeway Project collaborates with the South African National Rods Agency (SANRAL), which managers the national road infrastructure throughout the country, as well as all traffic and emergency services at local and provincial government level, and is able to dispatch assistance to users who are confronted with an emergency.
“Our focus is to ensure that our subscribers are stuck on the side of the road for a shorter time as possible,” Mr Slater says. He does note, however, that because emergency services are “thin on the ground”, in many instances, friends and family of stranded subscribers are usually first on the scene to render assistance. Because of the collaboration with the Freeway Management System, the Safe Freeway Project control room is often able to turn monitoring cameras to watch over stranded users while they wait for assistance.
According to Mr Slater, the Safe Freeway Project has upwards of 10 000 signed up users, of which just short of 3 000 paid-up subscribers. “It costs R89 a year to subscribe to the service, whether you are using the Soteria app or the WhatsApp system,” says Mr Slater. “The revenue we have generated, helps to fund the control room and the operational staff, as well as the cost of developing the Soteria app, but if we want to take the service and the app to the next level, we going to need more people to sign up.”
In an effort to raise awareness of the Safe Freeway Project, Mr Slater has recently run a number of information seminars centred on the use of the Soteria app. Bolander spoke to a number of users who attend a seminar at Helderberg High School, one of which Bolander attended last week.
Danie Potgieter of Somerset West said: “I’m very excited about it. I am already a user, and I will have my entire family setup within the next couple of days. I particularly like the WOM feature which will allow me to ensure my family is safe when they are out and about, and not just on the road.”
Renée Meyer, also of Somerset West, is also excited about the new app. “I’ve been a Safe Freeway Project member for a while, as I travel too and from Epping every weekday on the N2. I like what I’ve seen of the Soteria app tonight.”
Nicola Morris of Rooiels is also planing to make use of the app. “I’ll be recommending it to all of my neighbours, and I’ll also be using it to keep in touch with my son using the WOM feature. I travel in to Cape Town quite often and it will be useful for keeping in touch with traffic conditions on the road.”
Visit safen2.co.za to sign up as a WhatsApp subscriber to the Safe Freeway Project, or download the Soteria app for Android or iOS.