Every South African knows that feeling when they get a notification from Eskom Se Push out of the blue. You go to social media and see #Eskom or #Loadshedding trending in the number one spot, and you know you’re in for a few days (or weeks) of misery.

If you don’t use the app or social media, you might only realise that load shedding is happening, well, when it happens – as fate would have it, this is usually halfway through cooking dinner or at a climactic moment of your favourite series.

But, while you’re wining (and whining) by candlelight, the last thing on your mind is how load shedding affects our roads. Along with affecting businesses and quality of life for all South Africans, it turns out load shedding also makes driving less safe. Here’s how.

Traffic lights go out

When traffic lights are out, motorists are expected to treat intersections like 4-way stops – but when it’s 5PM rush hour traffic and you’re surrounded by frustrated drivers, it isn’t hard to spot drivers flouting the rules and crossing the intersection out of turn.

When crossing a busy intersection while the lights are out, don’t expect that everyone else is following the rules. Check that other drivers are coming to a stop, even if you know it’s supposed to be your turn next.

Decreased visibility

Streetlights are a casualty of load shedding, which makes it difficult for drivers to see any hazards in the road.

If there’s no oncoming traffic, drive with your brights on so that you can see the road up ahead. If there are oncoming cars, adjust your speed so that you can stop in time if there’s an obstruction ahead.

Always keep a look out for pedestrians when visibility is low, especially if you’re driving during the morning or early evening rush hours.

Irate drivers

Load shedding causes frustration for all South Africans, even more so if you happen to be stuck in traffic when it hits.

Your 30-minute commute turns into a 2-hour marathon, taxis and other drivers speed down yellow lanes, there’s a heightened risk of accidents, and everyone is on edge – it’s no wonder that it’s a recipe for disaster.

If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, don’t let yourself become a victim of road rage. If other motorists drive without consideration, don’t compete with them by trying to block them from merging into your lane or yelling at them from your window.

Prepare yourself with Google Maps or Waze to give you the quickest route home, put on some relaxing music or a podcast, and buckle in for a long drive home. If you already know sitting in traffic gets on your nerves, save yourself the stress and visit a coffee shop or restaurant close to your office and relax for an hour or two while waiting for traffic to die down.

Vulnerability to crime

Smash and grabs happen throughout the country, and there’s often very little you can do to prevent it. Criminals often target roads with high traffic density and an easy escape route for themselves, so whenever you’re sitting in traffic you may become a target.

Because load shedding both increases traffic volumes and decreases visibility, you may be more vulnerable to smash and grabs.

Here are some tips on what you can do to make yourself less of a target:

  • Keep all valuables in your boot. You should be doing this anyway, but particularly during load shedding or if you know you’ll be in heavy traffic.
  • Don’t fiddle with your phone. Even if you’re just trying to GPS yourself out of traffic, criminals can easily see the glow of your screen from outside the car.
  • If you’re stopped in a known hijacking hotspot, stay alert to your surroundings.
  • Leave space between yourself and the car in front of you. Even though you won’t be able to make an escape in heavy traffic, seeing that you have space to move forward may discourage criminals.

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