Saajidah Williams (a Master in Engineering graduate) did not follow the traditional route of doing a BEng degree first. With her unusual and exceptional background, she will be able to contribute greatly to her field by adding a human factors perspective.
In 2009, she was the top Matric learner in many subjects at her school in Mitchells Plain. After completing the SchiMathus programme at Stellenbosch University, she went on to do a BA with Psychology and Social Anthropology as majors. “After graduating I had to decide which of the two subjects to choose for my honour’s degree. I was also accepted for Psychology, but was keener to continue with Social Anthropology, because I felt it would enable me to make a bigger difference,” she says.
While busy with her undergraduate degree, she met Pascal Nteziyaremye, a postgraduate Engineering student specialising in road safety (see article Pascal passionate about road safety in South Africa). She says: “We used to walk to campus together and would often discuss how driver and pedestrian misdemeanours could be influenced and addressed through the road environment. I would often use the behaviour change models and principles I was learning in my Psychology class at the time to understand road user behaviour as well as how this behaviour could be changed. The more I chatted with Pascal, the more I became aware that road safety is not for engineers only, but that there is also a behavioural component to traffic safety that can be addressed through the application of principles from psychology. I later discovered that there is a discipline that focuses on studying the behaviour of road users and the psychological processes underlying this behaviour that is known as traffic psychology and human factors.
“Traffic psychologists seek to understand the needs of road users and their behaviour. They try to assist engineers in designing the road and road environment in a way that meets the needs of road users and compensates for their limitations, where possible. We are all road users: drivers, passengers and pedestrians.
“When finishing my honour’s, I met Pascal’s supervisor, Prof Marion Sinclair, who is an expert in road safety. I did not want to be converted into an engineer, but when I discovered that there is not a lot of people who do traffic psychology, I thought that with my background, I could still contribute to road safety. I attended some traffic safety courses and found most of them very interesting and decided to enrol for a master’s in Engineering in 2016, under the supervision of Prof Sinclair. The title of my thesis was Exploring driver behaviour under conditions of darkness: shedding light on the night time traffic death toll.”
Saajidah did not only find her research niche as a result of her chats about pedestrian behaviour with fellow student, Pascal. She also found a soul mate and a partner. Saajidah and Pascal were married in December 2015.
What would she like to do with her new qualification? “I would like to continue my research. There is a traffic psychology course in The Netherlands that I would like to attend. This can help to enhance my knowledge and grow and refine my skills in traffic psychology. I would like to come back to South Africa and work in a road safety field. Road safety is an undervalued yet crucial research field in South Africa. I would like to use my qualifications and the unique perspectives I bring to the table to work alongside engineers and other stakeholders in road safety to reduce the high number of crashes in South Africa,” she concludes.
Title of Thesis: Exploring driver behaviour under conditions of darkness: shedding light on the night time traffic death toll.
While only a quarter of driving is done at night, 58% of traffic deaths occur during the hours of darkness in South Africa. Moreover, the risk of being in a fatal crash is 4-5 times higher at night than daytime. The purpose of this study was to explore driver performance and behaviour under night time conditions in order to identify the factors that contribute to elevated crash risk at night. This was accomplished by analysing the characteristics of night time crashes, investigating driver performance at night time (in terms of speed choice, intersection behaviour and compliance with traffic rules) and examining the beliefs and perceptions of drivers that underpin and govern their behaviour at night.
Saajidah Williams in the Stellenbosch Smart Mobility Laboratory. In the background is the live feed from the SANRAL Traffic Management Centre based in Goodwood, Cape Town.