When will the road carnage be curbed?
South Africa’s road network is sadly infamous for its high accident rate, but this past festive season has been the worst in history, according to driving skills specialist Rob Handfield-Jones, who has monitored Christmas and Easter death tolls on our roads since 2007.
He adds that 1 184 deaths took place from December 1 to 30 – or 39,5 deaths per day. “This exceeds the record figure of 38 deaths per day for the 2012 festive season,” Handfield-Jones points out.
But this number kept on climbing. The Minister of Transport, Dipuo Peters, announced that 1 376 fatalities, resulting from 1 147 national accidents, occurred between December 1, 2013 and January 7, 2014. And, as the festive season only ended on January 13, these numbers may still, sadly, increase significantly.
“The figures, as announced, are already unacceptably high, despite the possible further negative impact from the rest of the festive season,” says Innocent Jumo, president of the South African Road Federation (SARF).
Handfield-Jones points out that the final number may soar by 15 to 20 percent by the time the 30-day waiting period for traffic fatalities has elapsed.
He says that the main reason for the ever-increasing festive death toll is the failure of government to provide road safety leadership. “People only drive as badly as their governments allow them to. In countries like the United States and the United Kingdom it is socially unacceptable to be a bad driver; government road safety systems in those countries are aimed at improving competence.”
Handfield-Jones adds that the South African picture is the opposite: “The Road Traffic Management Corporation showed a brief flash of intent while Gilberto Martins was acting CEO, but has since gone silent.” He continues: “Licensing is a corrupt mess with probably half of all licences being issued fraudulently. This creates a culture of bribery among drivers who forget that acquiring a fake licence can be deadly.”
Asked what needs to be done, he says the top three government priorities should be to rectify the poor gathering of statistical road safety data, overhaul the licensing system and prioritise the enforcement of moving violations. “As long as the key priority of law enforcers is revenue generation rather than safety, South Africa’s road deaths will continue to mount,” Handfield-Jones concludes.