Thousands of deaths on our roads are preventable
Road accidents are recognised internationally as a social and economic burden. Despite government efforts to curb the soaring number of road crashes, the annual number of road fatalities in SA and the cost thereof remains exceptionally high.
While substantial resources have been invested to promote public awareness, intensify law enforcement and increase the visibility of officers on our roads, this is yet to yield a significant reduction in the number of crashes and loss of life.
According to Arrive Alive’s 2021 Easter Road Safety and Fatality Statistics figures, 189 crashes were recorded during the Easter weekend, resulting in 235 fatalities nationwide. KwaZulu-Natal recorded the highest number, with 42 crashes and 54 fatalities, followed by Gauteng with 30 crashes resulting in 36 fatalities. Most of these were because of drunk driving, unsafe overtaking, excessive speed and not adhering to the rules of the road.
The financial and physical impact of road accidents are not just borne by the individual but by the extended family, society at large, the health sector and the economy.
The death of the breadwinner/main income earner, the cost of medical treatment and subsequent loss of a job and/or income often have adverse economic and social consequences on a household.
According to the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), there were 12,956 deaths on SA roads in 2020 which cost the economy a staggering R176bn. Deadly crashes as a result of alcohol consumption cost the economy R18.2bn in the same period.
In the face of such alarming statistics, the SA Sustainable Development Goals target to halve the number of deaths and injuries by 2020 was not achieved. The country performed poorly and completely missed the target.
The challenges in addressing road safety are primarily those of human behaviour which includes a lack of knowledge of the rules of the road, an unwillingness to abide by these rules, inadequate enforcement and a lack of follow-up of fines. This results in the culture of impunity seen on our roads. Repeat offenders know they can get away with transgressions by just paying “cold drink or tjotjo money”.
Behaviour that results in the safe use of roads is cultivated through proper education during a child’s foundation phase, reinforced through legally earned driver licences during comprehensive testing and monitored vehicle driving before earning a final licence.
There is a serious need for education and awareness campaigns, and increased visibility from law enforcement officers and road patrols. There need to be more roadblocks checking vehicles, issuing traffic fines, and impounding unroadworthy vehicles.
The DA in Gauteng has called for the Gauteng traffic police to be declared an essential service so that they provide 24-hour road safety services. There is also a need to fully use technology such as body cameras to improve traffic policing and to fight corruption which leads to further carnage.
Equally, motorists caught driving under the influence of alcohol and those arrested for excessive speeding should face the full might of the law. According to NPO, South Africans against Drunk Driving, a major issue with law enforcement and ensuring drunk drivers are dealt with is the under-testing and conviction rate which is between 2% to 7%.
We need to ensure testing is correctly done and followed by swift appearances in court for efficient prosecution. As long as people know they can drink and drive and not have to bear the consequences, this will remain a serious problem on our roads. No-one should be able to get away with placing their lives and those of other road users at risk.
Driving under the influence of alcohol, failure to wear a seatbelt, excessive speeding, disregarding road conditions and road signs is indicative of negative conduct that contributes to fatalities. Such loss of life is both unwarranted and preventable. However, reducing road crashes will require collective and sustained action from all of us.
• Nel is Gauteng MPL and DA shadow MEC for roads and transport
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