Voices

Something drastic needs to be done to address SA’s road deaths problem

2020-02-14 01:01

South Africa simply does not have enough traffic law enforcement officers and that is the root cause of the high road accident fatality rate.

With fewer than 19 000 traffic officers and close to 12.5 million vehicles, the officer to car ratio is 658 and, with a road network of about 747 000km, each traffic officer is responsible for almost 40km.

We have one of the poorest road safety records, with a road accident fatality rate of 22.4 per 100 000 population in 2018, and our fatalities have consistently been above 20 over the last 30 years.

Something drastic needs to be done to address the problem but, with resources already stretched, it seems unlikely that more traffic law enforcement officers will be appointed soon.

The 11th key strategic theme of the National Road Safety Strategy [NRSS]: 2016–2030, adopted by Cabinet in March 2017, calls for an improvement in road user attitude and behaviour and for “increased involvement of communities in road safety”.

When we signed up for the World Health Organization’s Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011–2020, in March 2010, government knew that there was no way that we would reach the goal of reducing road fatalities by 50% from the 2010 baseline of 13 967 to 6 984 by 2020.

Since joining in 2011, road fatalities first came down by a negligible 0.09%, decreased in 2012 by 3.05% and decreased further by a record 12.45% in 2013.

During the three years preceding the implementation of the NRSS, road fatalities exceeded the 2010 number to peak at 14 071 in 2016.

When the National Development Plan was adopted by Cabinet in 2012, it introduced a new target and set the 50% cut in the 2010 baseline only by 2030, and the NRSS estimates that in order to achieve this, fatalities should decrease annually by a more “realistic” or “feasible” 4%.

But South Africa has been off track since the adoption of the NRSS.

According to the strategy, the target should have been 12 426 in 2016 and 11 929 in 2017.

Instead, recorded fatalities were 13% higher than expected in 2016 and 18% over the target in 2017.

The same happened in 2018 when the NRSS’s target of 11 425 was exceeded by 13%, despite an 8% drop when compared with the actual number of fatalities for the previous year.

At this rate, the country would need an annual decrease of 5% if the 50% reduction target by 2030 would be met but, without the involvement of communities, this seems highly unlikely.

More worrying, however, is that, despite the fact that 90% of the contributory factors for fatal crashes are classified as human factors, communities and other road users are not equipped with any mechanism to help in ensuring safer roads and to play the active and meaningful role the NRSS envisions.

The available national helplines, where members of the community can report irresponsible or reckless driving, or even unroadworthy vehicles, are insufficient and often not operational, and it is estimated that less than 10% of trucks and delivery vans belong to any “report-my-driving” services.

These services, despite their own shortcomings and being expensive to both fleet owner and road user who wish to report an incident, can reduce accidents by as much as 20% and those companies that subscribe to it have seen a 50% reduction in accident-related costs.

“Report-my-driving” services are not the only way to help reduce our appalling road fatality rates and bring us back on target, but they are an effective way to keep others accountable and also give the public a direct role in this national effort.

Government and industry should invest in the use of new technologies to provide road users with the best possible mechanism to achieve the target.

This would reduce the cost to road users and encourage greater participation by all pedestrians, passengers, commuters and drivers.

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  • Adendorf is an integrity and ethics expert, and managing director of Reputegrity Ethics and Compliance Solutions

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March 29 2020