Load shedding, which is now almost a daily occurrence in South Africa, is more than just a major inconvenience – it’s a crime risk too and has resulted in an increase in home break-ins and vehicle accidents.
Insurer Dialdirect has compared the number of burglary incidents and the number of vehicle accidents when there is no load shedding to when there is from July 2019 to May 2022, and found that during the week, load shedding resulted in a 3.2% increase in burglaries and a 5.2% increase in vehicle accidents. Over the weekend, these figures more than double, increasing the risk of break-ins by 8% and that of vehicle accidents by 13.5%
“The dangerous consequences of load shedding is when street lights and traffic lights are down at night. Motorists are encouraged to drive cautiously at all times, but especially so in poorly lit areas. Treat all inoperative traffic lights as a four-way stop, and when in doubt, yield to oncoming traffic from the right. Do not assume that all other drivers will stop so exercise extreme vigilance and drive defensively,” says Anneli Retief, Head of Dialdirect.
On the home front, when the lights go out, so do the alarm systems, gate motors and electric fencing making it easier for criminals to gain access to your property, and spend longer in it.
“Most insurance policies stipulate in their contracts that the house alarm must be activated at all times when the home is unoccupied. So, if your house is burgled during a power cut, then, theoretically, your theft-related cover would be moot,” Retief says. “We believe that load shedding is beyond the control of our customers, and therefore, they should not be penalised for it. As such, each case will be considered based on its own merits.”
Dialdirect urges South Africans to take extra precautions at their homes and on the road to avoid loss and damage to property and provides the following tips to stay safe:
· Put the proposed load shedding times somewhere handy so that your family will have enough time to prepare for the outage.
· Get a few high-wattage solar powered lights for your garden, and a few LED lights for inside. Light is also a deterrent to would-be burglars.
· Keep your cellphone charged, or invest in a portable phone charger, so that you can still call for help if you need to.
· If you need to manually open and close your gates when you get home, try to have someone come and meet you at your entrance, or arrange for an escort from your security company.
· Use padlocks, burglar bars and deadbolts to provide an extra level of home security that isn’t power-dependent.
· Alarm systems, garage doors and electric gates generally rely on electricity so make sure that these items all have good back-up batteries.
· Keep a torch or a solar, battery powered light that is charged beforehand in multiple, easily accessible locations around your home. Be sure to also have plenty of spare batteries.
· Make sure that all appliances – especially those that pose a fire risk if left unattended – are switched off when load shedding starts and gradually turned back on once power returns to minimise pressure on the grid. Load shedding increases the chance of power surges which often leads to damage of home appliances. While power surge insurance is available, it’s best to rather unplug appliances and devices that are at risk before the storm arrives.
ON THE ROAD:
- Plan carefully. Know when there will be outages in your area or areas you plan to travel through and to. Try to avoid the roads in areas experiencing load shedding as far as possible or wait out load shedding if you can.
- Reduce speed as this will give you valuable extra time to react. Make time to check and double-check before you move.
- When streetlights are out, take extra care in making sure that you can both see and be seen, without hindering the vision of other drivers.
- Treat intersections with inoperative traffic lights as four-way stops, and when in doubt, yield to oncoming traffic from the right.
- Do not assume that all other drivers will stop, so exercise extreme caution and drive defensively. Also bear in mind that not all drivers know an area and its traffic lights well, increasing the risk of them driving straight through an intersection.
- Avoid driving angry and beware of frustrated drivers. The frustration caused by load shedding often spills onto the streets, with dire consequences. Actively focus on keeping yourself calm, driving responsibly and keeping an eye out for irate drivers.
- Leave your mobile phone. Drivers often spend more time on their mobile phones during load shedding to update others that they’re running late – a distraction that could have fatal consequences.
- Beware of criminals, especially hijackers and smash-and-grab criminals, who want to use the cover of darkness to their advantage. Keep your car doors and windows locked and closed, be alert and fully aware of your surroundings and move along as swiftly and responsibly as you can.
“By all indications, load shedding is going to be with us for a while, but a proactive approach to home and road safety, as well as having comprehensive insurance cover in place, goes a long way in mitigating the risk and keeping you and your loved ones safe,” Retief concludes.