South Africa is facing a national crisis with unsafe roads and high accident rates. One superwoman decided to make a difference and is calling other supermen and -women to join her cause: Road Heroes.
“As an occupational therapist [OT], I have 35 years of work experience with people affected by road crashes,” says founder Lee Randall. “Most have come to need an OT because of permanent disabilities, serious physical injuries or serious psychological consequences. Their lives and those of their families have often been profoundly altered by that one event.
“Because I do medicolegal work, I’m very aware of the costs that can arise when someone has a disability. When it comes to Road Accident Fund [RAF] claims, for instance, OTs play a key role in helping quantify the costs of disability.
“These include lifelong needs for equipment, home and vehicle modifications, carers, household assistance, professional interventions like rehabilitation, transport to and from treatment sessions, adaptations to leisure activities, workplace changes – you name it.”
She adds that many of the road accidents that lead to disability are preventable, or that injuries could have been minimised. Her experience with clients has led her to focus on road safety. She is currently busy with her PhD in bioethics at the Steve Biko Centre at Wits University. She will graduate in July.
“I’m interested in the transport modes that affect large numbers of people,” she says. “I focused my research on minibus taxis, which carry huge numbers of people around South Africa.” Her thesis is titled “Coffins on wheels: A bioethical study of work conditions, driver behaviour and road safety in the Johannesburg minibus taxi industry”.
Becoming a hero
Randall has also established the road safety advocacy campaign Road Heroes, which is aimed at getting a dialogue started between the public and government. She told us a bit more about this initiative:
“At this point it’s purely a voluntary association that I’m bootstrapping from my own resources, but it will in due course be registered as a formal NPO, able to receive donations and issue Section 18A tax certificates. Anyone at all who cares about the problem can be involved in Road Heroes’ work,” she explains.
“It’s about ordinary people taking a stand and making a difference. Through the marginal gains approach, we will turn the situation around, even in the absence of good leadership from government.”
A key focus for the campaign is road safety advocacy workshops with multidisciplinary health practitioners, who are key influencers with many insights into the consequences of road crashes, but don’t always have the tools and data required to engage in cause advocacy. “They’re used to speaking up on behalf of individual clients, but feel helpless to tackle the broader situation,” Randall says.
Read more about road safety in South Africa here.
“To ensure the success of the campaign, Road Heroes also requires the collaboration of the disability community, which has first-hand experience with the consequences of road crashes. QASA has starred in a great United Nations video about road safety here and in New York. I love the QASA stickers that say, ‘Buckle up. We don’t want new members’.”
The organisation is also developing advocacy training materials for NPOs, particularly those working with the youth. This material is tailor-made to address the particular road risks that affect the NPOs’ beneficiaries.
In addition, The Road Heroes launched a petition that calls on the Road Traffic Management Corporation to become a more effective lead agency. “I know petitions are but one tool in an advocacy toolkit and not necessarily the most powerful, but they are a very good way to raise awareness and mobilise people around a social problem while simultaneously giving a wake-up call to a government appointee,” says Randall.
Read more about how we can make our roads safer here.
Road Heroes shares information and practical tips through a newsletter. To join, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The first instalment, sent just before Easter, focused on things people could do to help reduce crashes over that period. Future issues will look at topics like how over-the-counter medication can impair driving, insights from the #SaferCarsForAfrica event in Kyalami, and visual impairments and driving.
Watch this space!