The high road accident rate in South Africa is devasting to the economy and the families of injured or deceased road users. So how do we make our roads safer? It starts with taking accountability for the situation.
“Everybody in this country should be aware that we have a major public health crisis on our hands,” says Lee Randall, occupational therapist and founder of Road Heroes. “Unfortunately, even though government and civil society alike highlight ‘the carnage on the roads’, especially during the so-called festive season, there’s an element of denialism in the way we continue to tolerate it.”
Randall emphasises that government needs to take more responsibility for policy making and law enforcement.
There are some lessons to be learnt from the Decade of Action for Road Safety, a global initiative that gathered scientific evidence from several countries regarding road safety. It focused on road safety management, safer roads and mobility, safer vehicles, safer road users and post-crash response. The data gathered through the programme highlighted the importance of good legislation with regard to speeding, drunk-driving, seatbelts, child restraints and motorcycle helmets.
Where SA is failing
While our country has some good legislation, it does lack in some areas. “For instance, the optimal urban speed limit is 50 km/h, not 60 km/h as is the case in South Africa,’ Randall says. “Our drunk-driving rules also set the same alcohol limit for everyone instead of being stricter for young drivers who are most at risk.”
Legislation, however, is not the only important part of road safety. Ensure that road users actually adhere to the law is crucial. In South Africa, according to Randall, only three to four percent of people use their seatbelts! This figure is much higher in many other countries. The condition of a vehicle itself is also essential to ensuring a safe journey.
Find out more in Part I of ROLLING INSPIRATION’s road safety series here.
“We have huge numbers of elderly vehicles on our roads and government finds it acceptable that scholar transport vehicles are up to 12 years old, even though the Department of Transport suggests that a minibus taxi’s working lifespan should be seven years,” Randall says. “Basically, most South African vehicles don’t meet any sort of internationally accepted safety standards.”
Time for action
For Randall, the first step to safer roads is making the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) more efficient. She notes: “The average South African has never heard of the RTMC and probably can’t spout any actual data about our road safety situation, except perhaps the most recent Easter death statistics, which in themselves are badly collected and woefully understated by the RTMC, focusing only on deaths and not on injuries and disabilities.”
Another of concern is fraudulent driver’s licences, professional driver’s permits and roadworthy certificates.
“Government has been like a distracted driver, repeatedly taking its eyes off the road and forgetting all about the journey this country needs to be on for everyone’s benefit. Unfortunately, the RTMC is stuffed full of rather well-paid staff who seem to receive bonuses even when they haven’t brought about any meaningful improvement,” Randall says.
Addressing the human aspect
The majority of crashes occur as a result of some human behaviour or error. For that reason, addressing driver awareness and the attitude of road users is very important.
“The mentality that allows private cars to dominate our roads, being driven for individual convenience and often at dangerous speeds, is a big problem,” says Randall. “Drivers need to be much more accepting of the rights of non-motorised traffic, such as pedestrians, cyclists and people pushing recycling trolleys, and more vulnerable motorised traffic, such as tuk-tuks and motorbikes. We need to grapple a bit with the moral issues around multi-occupant vehicles versus single-occupant vehicles.
“Anytime we enter the road traffic system, we should try to ensure that we are medically fit, well rested and not suffering from impairments due to medication side effects or intoxicating substances.”
More tolerance, more responsibility
Randall adds that, although there are some minibus-taxi drivers who drive recklessly, more tolerance is required for the greater good. That means slowing down or allowing the minibus to push in.
“Scholar transport vehicles also need to be treated with particular care. Parents, teachers and school principals all need to investigate how to get kids to and from school in the safest manner,” she says.
“Since defective vehicles cause many crashes, making sure our vehicles are properly serviced and maintained is very important – along with putting pressure on bus and truck companies, taxi operators and school transport providers to do the same.”
She adds that employers should take an interest in the mode of transport used by their employees and consider making a financial contribution to allow them to use a safer mode of transport.
Teaching our children
While it might take some times to teach mature road users good driving behaviours, basic guidelines can be instilled in children from a young age: everything from wearing a seatbelt to basic pedestrian guidelines such as wearing light-coloured or reflective clothing, walking facing oncoming traffic and, where possible, crossing busy streets only when the little green man shows it’s safe to do so.
“Basically, we all just need to wake up our inner traffic cops!” Randall says. “|We don’t need to wait to be caught or punished before behaving in safety-smart ways.”