Hector Eliott has three suggestions on how to deal with the crisis on South African roads.
Cape Town - Just two horrific crashes in KwaZulu-Natal claimed 34 lives recently, one involving Reed Dance maidens, the other a runaway truck.
Let’s recap on the scope of the crisis on South African roads: 17 072 killed per annum at last count, and R306 billion, or close to 10 percent of GDP down the drain. So what do we need to do? Here are three suggestions which are by no means comprehensive.
We should implement a national road safety strategy, as has been promised since 2009.
Development must happen now – implementation takes longer. The strategy needs to adopt international best practices, customise them to local conditions, and be developed in consultation with the full range of stakeholders, including our best academics, surgeons, EMTs (emergency medical technicians), engineers and traffic services, as well as the private sector and NGOs. The strategy needs to accept that road safety is a science that has been in existence for decades, and every intervention must be based on best practice and careful analysis of the evidence, not on guesswork.
In this regard, regular production of accurate road safety statistics must be revived and one or more state-of-the-art road safety research facilities must be created. The strategy must cover all actions required to make our roads safe. The Western Cape government has made admirable progress towards developing a safe systems strategy, and the City of Cape Town will soon release a road safety strategy for the metro, but overall direction must be unified, cover the whole of society and the entire country, be backed by serious budget, and must therefore come from national government.
Such a strategy should include:
* Bolstered enforcement, including better support from the justice system: serious offenders should be sentenced based on what they did, not on who they are, and middle-class convicted road killers like Andries Zuidema or Bhekilanga Nkalitshana should not walk free because they have jobs and dependants. Also, driver and vehicle licensing corruption needs to be tackled through facility surveillance, undercover operations and constant automated auditing of licences, backed by random traffic stops and roadblocks. Offenders, particularly corrupt officials, must be sanctioned to the full extent of the law, including severe fines and/or jail time for people who buy illegal licences.
* Better road safety education, which is in an appalling state. As a result, most drivers and nearly all passengers don’t wear seatbelts. Some motorists even believe that wearing a seatbelt is dangerous. Few recognise the link between speed and the number of serious crashes on the road. Some even deny the link as vehemently as those who denied the link between HIV and Aids, based on as little evidence.
It seems some parents are more careful securing a case of beer in their vehicle than a child, send unaccompanied small children across busy roads to the shop, or let them play in the street unsupervised. Pedestrians wander across highways completely intoxicated. We need a systematic and sustained road safety education programme that utilises marketing and behavioural science techniques, and stigmatises reckless behaviours like drunk driving, speeding and not buckling in children. The programme needs to be broad-based and backed by enforcement action that reinforces the education message. It should be funded by redirecting part of the Road Accident Fund’s budget. The return on investment for the RAF will eclipse the outlay: more ads mean fewer prosthetic limbs and funerals.
* Addressing speed. Appropriate traffic speed for the road environment is a core part of road safety. South Africa’s speed limits do not suit its infrastructure, vehicles and driver capabilities. They need to come down, finish en klaar. People won’t suddenly start obeying the new limit. But the evidence from around the world shows that the mean speed travelled goes down when speed limits are reduced, even where enforcement is not optimal. A 10km/h speed limit reduction can mean a four to 5km/h mean speed reduction. That in turn can mean a 10 percent reduction in serious crashes, and save thousands of lives. Lower speeds save lives with minuscule impacts on journey times.
We should implement a workable demerit points and administrative justice system, because the courts are so overburdened that even offenders who are caught often ultimately get away with it. We’ll need private tow-and-impound facilities so that police can swiftly impound vehicles that are not properly registered, or which are being driven without a licence. The current situation is to give the offender a fine and send them on their way. The fine is never paid, the vehicle never registered, and the driver never gets a licence, which prevents something like AARTO from working: you can’t take points off an unlicensed driver. The net result of a system that requires compliance to work, but costs drivers a lot to comply, and little to not comply, is, unsurprisingly, less compliance. If tow-and-impound facilities were available, the officer would inform control, which dispatches the nearest operator to come and collect the vehicle. The owner can only collect the vehicle with the necessary documentation and on payment of the relevant fines, which creates real consequences for non-compliance.
We need more policing, not more police, and we need to get the SAPS directly involved in law enforcement on the roads. As our new transport minister recently pointed out, the traffic services and metro police number 18 000 countrywide, which is minuscule, and these are not all optimally trained or equipped. SAPS has over 200 000 uniformed members, and needs to start taking a lead role in road policing. This means breathalysing everybody they stop at a roadblock or traffic stop, checking their identity and ensuring that their vehicle is legally registered and roadworthy. The SAPS needs to take action any time it sees the law being broken, including pedestrians on the highway, vehicles without registration plates, speeders and moving violations. The SAPS’s return on investment will be huge: as the roads are taken back, so criminals will find it harder to move themselves, victims, guns, drugs and contraband.
* Hector Eliott is special adviser to Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, a former head of the ministries of transport and public works, and a member of the Global Road Safety Partnership.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.