Joburg Expat: Red Robot

May 17, 2010

Red Robot

The following comment as I was browsing a Johannesburg travel forum on Wikitravel was making me laugh:
Can someone explain what is a "red robot"? [QUOTE]At night do not stop at red robots.[/QUOTE]
A robot, to all newcomers, is what South Africans call traffic lights! I remember feeling confused at first, when people would give me directions, and I would think: "What kind of robot should I be looking for? Made of tin? How big?" and "There seem to be an awful lot of robots by the roadside... maybe some kind of local art form?"

But in my self-proclaimed capacity as an advisor to fellow expats in Johannesburg, I should probably expand on the topic of whether to stop or not to stop at red traffic lights at night. I have heard the same recommendation as above, to drive on, but I think it really depends on where you are driving at the time. So far, I've stopped at all the traffic lights I've come to, day or night, as stopping seems a lot safer than driving through! But I seem to be only going up and down William Nichol Drive, which I guess is considered a safe area. I suppose in the end it comes down to common sense, as always. If you're stopped in a lonely area, and/or see some shadowy figures approaching, by all means drive on.

What I think is more of a concern is what to do in a traffic accident. It seems entirely plausible that someone might stage an accident scene or ram you on purpose, only to make off with your valuables, or worse, assault you, when you stop. I know this first hand from long ago in France (generally considered a safe country), when we were unwillingly separated from our wallets in just that fashion. I've read somewhere (but will research this further) that you are not expected to stop when involved in a fender-bender here, but should rather drive on to the next public area, like a service station. If your car still moves, that is. If it doesn't, I guess you should call the police and/or your roadside assistance number immediately while staying in the car. But I hope to find out more about this issue in our soon-to-be-scheduled security training and promise to update this post then.