I’ve been to some desolate places.
Like Etosha Pan, in Namibia – in my Land Cruiser, as a game ranger.
Or the Salar de Uyuni – the world’s highest salt lake, in the Bolivian Andes, not far from Lake Titicaca, also in Land Rovers.
Like the middle of the Atlantic – becalmed for five days, on the Cape-to-Rio yacht race.
The sail would flap listlessly, every five minutes, before the stillness bore on.
Like the “Door of No Return”, on the coast of Benin, where millions of slaves left Africa forever.
But even the emptiness at those places, is nothing compared to the sudden death of a loved one.
The phone rang. “There’s been head-on. She is dead.”
Our family has bade farewell to loved ones before.
We’ve even survived a sudden death. That brutal shock.
But none of us had experienced the torture of a road death.
The agony of combined of loss and preventability.
Such pain from the randomness. “She was at precisely the wrong place at precisely the wrong time.”
Metres and mili-seconds between life and death.
I visited the scene hours later.
Erected a cross from nearby branches, tied together with grass, coloured with wild flowers.
I studied the scene, the precise point of impact.
The road is high quality, a famous scenic route in our Cape Winelands.
The tar mac smooth and wide, the road markings clear.
I’m not a road engineer. But I know the pass backwards. I’ve long believed certain corners are problematic.
Descending the pass, several bends have badly cambered road angles.
You’re turning left, but one’s car pulls to the right.
So following the road left is counter-intuitive. One has to tug one’s steering wheel left.
If you loosened your grip for a split-second, your car would correct immediately, right across the solid white line, into on-coming traffic.
So I wondered, at that place of death: is the speed limit too high?
And what determines our speed limits? Do we set them to maximise the speed of mobility?
Or to minimise crash likelihood, and maximise the chances of human survival in a crash?
We could ask two questions. One: “Can road engineers prove that lower speed limits would reduce deaths?”
Or is the correct question, instead: “Are we doing everything we can to reduce deaths?”
The first is a question of engineering.
The second is far more powerful: It’s a question of leadership.
Could lower speed limits have saved our loved one? Possibly.
So, now: Will we do everything we can, to save others from this desolation?