Many South African ambulances pose a major threat to their passengers due to them being conversions from panel vans, the City Press has reported.
Speaking to the City Press, former banker Hennie de Beer – who exposed a similar issue several years ago related to minibus taxis – said that may local ambulances have been converted from three-seater Toyota panel vans.
These vehicles have been illegally converted to ambulances, De Beer said, and may have already resulted in many deaths on South African roads.
This is due to the lack of sturdy construction and the extent of the modifications necessary to convert the panel van into an ambulance.
De Beer said these vehicles have thin floors which make it difficult to mount equipment, and the rear of the cabin is not reinforced, which means passengers are provided with little protection.
He said that when these vehicles roll, the passenger seats tear out the floor and passengers are flung from the vehicle. He added that this weakened structure makes the vehicle more difficult to drive at speed, resulting in drivers losing control.
Toyota denies danger
Toyota denied that its panel vans are dangerous and told the City Press that ambulance conversions were approved by the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications, adding that this practice was conducted around the world.
These conversions must be approved by Toyota, the report stated, as without the company’s permission they would be unlawful.
Former Toyota South Africa CEO Johan van Zyl said in 2010 that the company would never give permission to convert one of its panel vans into a passenger vehicle.
“The vehicle is not designed to be used for passenger transport – it is designed to be used as a vehicle to transport cargo,” he said.
Toyota SA told the City Press that this statement was referring to the conversion of panel vans into taxis, not ambulances – which it said has a different vehicle classification.
DA calls out conversions
DA Shadow Minister of Transport Chris Hunsinger said last year that Ford Ranger vehicles were also being converted into taxis and ambulances, and called the Department of Transport to crack down on the practice.
The DA urged the Department to act immediately, stating these conversions compromise road safety every day and place millions of road users in unimaginable life-threatening situations.
“The fact remains that these Toyota Quantum Taxi’s, ambulances and now also converted passenger-carrying Ford Ranger transporters are being ‘registered’ on the Department of Transport’s Natis-system – in what seems to be a legitimate, ‘over the counter’ process,” Hunsinger said.
“Conversions are only possible through a producer-involved process of homologation which includes rigidity-testing. If these processes are not followed and the DoT continues to fail in acting against illegally converted taxis and ambulances these unroadworthy vehicles will continue to find their way into private and public emergency and health care facilities across South Africa.”
“The DA sympathises with all those who have been, and still are, exploited in this scandalous abuse,” Hunsinger said.