On Friday 14 June, Killarney International Raceway welcomed hundreds of young people from college campuses and youth organisations all over the Western Cape, and as far away as Atlantis, to the first Road Safety Youth Open Day, hosted by Western Cape Department of Transport and Public Works with the help of the Provincial Traffic Services, the City of Cape Town Traffic Services, the SA Police Services, Radio Good Hope, DJ Ready D and Safer Roads 4 All, South Africa Against Drunk Driving, Nicro, MasterDrive, Goodyear Tyres, eKasi Motorcycle Club and a host of road safety stake-holders.

It was a significant departure from the usual road safety initiatives in that it focused on young people – the next generation of drivers. about 30 people in and around Cape Town die in road crashes every weekend of the year, the majority of them young and male.

Executive Manager Des Easom welcomed the participants to Killarney International Raceway. He told the story of how the circuit grew from a disused section of the old Malmesbury Road in 1947 to the multi-purpose motorsport facility it is today, paid for by re-investment from events, without public funding, and hosting some 200 events a year, 70 of them charity events. The circuit has also become a popular venue for cycle training and events.

Killarney was just as proud, he said, of its contribution to road safety, including track schools where drivers and motorcycle riders could learn to handle their vehicles at speed, and practice life-saving reactions when something goes wrong, under expert tuition in a safe and controlled environment.

The circuit has also assisted in addressing the problem of illegal street racing, first with the pilot Street2Strip initiative and now, in partnership with the City of Cape Town, by opening the drag strip to the street-racing fraternity every Wednesday night, providing all the thrills of Robot Racing without endangering themselves, spectators and other road users.

Western Cape Transport and Public Works Minister, Bonginkosi Madikizela, opening the event, made the point that road crashes cost South Africa billions upon billion each year – money that could be better spent on education, housing and job creation.

But it was the human cost that was heart-breaking, he said; just a few weeks after taking up his new portfolio, he visited two families in Worcester, one of which had lost four family members and the other two daughters over the same weekend – tragedies that would affect the whole community for years to come.

Provincial Traffic Chief Kenny Africa said these tragedies affected him on a very personal level; he was always the first one to receive the call, at any hour of the day or night, whenever a road crash with multiple victims occurred. As much as it was the responsibility of government to catch and punish offenders, he said, it was the responsibility of young people – the next generation – to change the culture of acceptance, even admiration, of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Then the young guests split up into groups and moved from activation to activation; from static displays of simulated accident scenes to trying to catch a tennis ball while wearing ‘drunk goggles’, to a spinning display by DJ Ready D and his Safer Roads 4 All crew, including a graphic demonstration of why you shouldn’t try this on the street that left dents in two of the cars.

Perhaps the deepest impression was made, however, by the two MasterDrive activations. In the first an instructor demonstrated just how long it takes to stop a vehicle travelling at 60, and then 120km/h, leaving most of the participants astonished by how badly they had underestimated the stopping distance required.

In the second the notorious ‘Skid Monster’ – a small hatchback with castor-mounted rear wheels – showed just how quickly even a modern car can get out of control when the wheels break traction. On a spinning pitch, it’s great fun; on the public road, it’s a recipe for disaster, something that wasn’t lost on the (slightly seasick) passengers after their rides.

In a high-energy, very noisy closing ceremony that included an impromptu dance-off, MasterDrive Western Cape chief Eugene Nourse drew two names out of a bag, each of whom won a MasterDrive advanced driving course, as MC JC Organsie rammed home the two most important messages of the Road Safety Youth Open Day, the slogans “My safety, your safety, our safety” and “One safer driver, safer roads for all”.

Maybe we grown-ups should take those messages to heart as well.