Taxi-drivers covering long distances between Cape Town and the Eastern Cape do not adhere to speed limits, are often ignorant of the 100km/h speed limit for taxis and drive faster if they are not the owners of the vehicle. However, taxis contribute proportionally little to road fatalities.These are some of the findings of a research project conducted by Dr Thinus Booysen, a senior lecturer from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Stellenbosch University (SU) in the Western Cape. ‘ENCOURAGED TO SPEED’Booysen evaluated the role that taxis play in road death statistics: “With the voluntary assistance of drivers, I have been using detachable tracking devices to track long-distance minibus taxis over the past year. “Information captured includes speed, location, and time, which allows me to look at arrival times, departure times, maximum speeds, and average speeds for each road segment on the route. The most commonly used vehicle is the Toyota Quantum, which is certified to carry 15 passengers. Minibus taxis are required, by law, to keep to a speed limit of 100km/h.”“From the outset, it was clear that the minibus taxis did not adhere to the speed limit. Interestingly, when questioned about this, some drivers erroneously claimed that the speed limit for taxis is 120km/h. “They also claimed that passengers usually encourage them to speed, to ensure timely arrival. The maximum speeds recorded, frequently exceed 140km/h on almost all segments of the route, with maximum recorded speed, across all taxis and segments, of 159km/h. “NEGATIVE PERCEPTIONS Boysen reports that Africa has “less than 2% of the world’s registered vehicles” but contributes to 20% of global road deaths. Speeding is blamed for 40% of crashes caused by human-error.Boysen said: “Taxis make up around 5% of all vehicles on the road, and are involved in 8% of crashes, leading to less than 5% of road fatalities. Many people therefore believe that these taxis are the main contributor to the 14 000-odd annual road deaths in this country. “However, long-distance taxis typically cover almost ten times the distance of the average motor vehicle, which diminishes their contribution in terms of fatalities per km. The long-distance trips occur in the middle of the night, when the roads are mostly deserted. The lower fatality and accident rates could also be because the drivers are essentially working, and tend not to drive while under the influence of alcohol. ” Boysen said: “It’s clear that taxi drivers significantly exceed the speed limit, which is considered to be one of the major contributors to road crashes, but they tend to do so in the middle of the night, when the roads are empty. “In addition to the proposed interventions, in the short term, law enforcement should be strengthened to control the reckless speeding by minibus taxis.” SOLUTIONSAccording to Booysen, one of the main contributors to speeding seems to be the departure time: For every hour the taxi departs later from the Eastern Cape, the return trip takes 30 minutes less. It therefore makes sense to try to optimise the logistical challenge of collecting all the passengers from their various destinations to ensure a timely departure.”Drivers who were the owners of their taxis were less likely to speed: “Maximum recorded speeds were around 10km/h higher if the driver was employed by the owner, rather than the owner himself. It may therefore make sense to give the driver shares in the asset to reduce speeding.” One solution proposed suggests equipping taxis with tracking devices to curb speeding. According to the research: “If taxi owners were required to install tracking devices into their vehicles, driver behaviour could be monitored from a central location and in real time.” Booysen will be conducting a second phase of the project during the 2013-2014 holiday season. Ten taxis have been equipped with tracking devices that will also monitor reckless driving such as harsh acceleration and cornering.