We need a shift in behaviour on roads

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More than 100 million people died on the world's roads, says the writer. Picture: Brenton Geach

It is estimated that 20th century warfare claimed the lives of 160 million people – a dreadful, alarming statistic. However, without wishing to appear too cynical, this was war, and the intention of war is to dominate your rival, win over minds, protect what is rightfully yours, and prevent further threat to one’s environment.

This mostly, if not always, involves killing people.

Far more disturbing and horrific is the fact that during those same 100 years, more than 100 million people died on the world’s roads. More than 100 million in 100 years, climbing each year as more cars were manufactured. There are now more than one billion cars on the planet. How easily do we look back on all the road death statistics and simply brush them off? Mobility is an act of travel from origin to destination, not an effort to destroy, maim or kill others. Or is it?

The differential fatality statistics between wars and traffic are simply far too congruent. When humans go about their travels, they kill one another in great big bleeding numbers. At times this is purely accidental, at other times it is malicious and deliberate. It is the result of impatience, road rage, intoxication, a lack of respect, insufficient training and skills, unroadworthy and overloaded vehicles, the effects of an obsession with speed and power, and many other reasons.

We all need to travel – we require mobility and access to places of education, employment and leisure. But something is missing.

We need this to be safe, we need to have a better-than-wartime probability of making it there alive, but for many an innocent commute in a car is no different from an armed conflict. In South Africa, this is frighteningly evident.

Our country has one of the highest road fatality rates in the world.

A high percentage of vehicles and drivers are unlicensed. According to the SA Road Traffic Report of March 2011, there were 33.2 road traffic fatalities for every 100 000 people (of a population of about 50 million) a year; 208 fatalities for every 100 000 motor vehicles; meaning there were 13 802 fatalities in 2010.

This needs to be viewed against the UK figures of 3.5 deaths for every 100 000 people, seven deaths for every 100 000 vehicles, and 2 222 deaths overall; and the US figures of 12.3, 15 and 33 808, respectively, over the same period.

South Africa’s road fatality rate costs the taxpayer R10 million a year, with an additional R80 billion for all related damage, injuries and insurance claims.

One would think it would have improved over the past 25 years, but it hasn’t. Previously disadvantaged communities did begin to relocate closer to better schools and jobs and into the cities. However, for many the distances remained significant, as space is limited and the economic and social barriers remain.

Public transport to outlying communities has improved to some degree in the past 20 years, but the extent to which ever-increasing populations can be catered for remains a huge challenge.

High unemployment and the barriers to low-cost access to education and employment remain. Research conducted by the Bicycling Empowerment Network (BEN) in a number of the informal settlements in Cape Town showed that many residents spend more than 25 percent of their income on public transport. Even with this significant financial burden, people are forced to travel.

We all need to ensure that this is done in the safest and most respectful of environments, and this starts with each and every one of us. The joint LeadSA, Western Cape government, Independent Newspapers and BEN MyPledge safety campaign is an effective start to this.

All road users can begin to internalise what the MyPledge represents, and thereafter bring about behavioural change. It starts with you, and with me.

I will choose not to run a red traffic light, or stop street, or to speed, or to drive or cycle or even walk in the roadway while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or to act aggressively to fellow road users.

I will do this and more, as will you, as it demonstrates a respect for the lives of others.

In Cape Town, Joburg and Durban, efforts are being made to improve the safety of all road users and to introduce more cycling and walking, coupled with public transport, at the expense of private motor vehicles.

Cape Town’s Non-Motorised Transport (NMT) Forum, also known as the Active Mobility Forum, established in 2004, consists of representatives of the city, the provincial government, as well as transportation planning practitioners, NGOs, cycling advocates and other interested parties.

Moves are afoot to extend variants of the forum to Joburg, Durban and other metropolitan areas. The vision is that Cape Town will grow into a city with a general sense of well-being through the development of a dignified urban environment where people feel free to walk and cycle, space is shared and everyone has access to urban opportunities and mobility.

A key goal is to increase the use of bicycles and encourage walking by creating a safe and robust network of bicycle and pedestrian paths to serve all citizens, for when more people use bicycles or walk, a city becomes safer for all. This can be qualitatively demonstrated in more than 50 cities in Europe and the Americas.

In the period since the establishment of the NMT Forum the city has overseen the planning and implementation of between 250 and 280km of bicycle lanes and pedestrian paths, in both poor and affluent areas – some to directly address pro-poor mobility and others to enhance recreational routes.

All told, this will allow all a safe, low-cost and environmentally sound mode of travel to places of education and employment. All of this progress in design and affordability is welcome and does enable a safer environment. But once again, I return to the issue of individual responsibility.

If we as commuters – whatever form of mobility we use – do not think about our safety and the safety of others first, we will never stop killing one another on the roads.

Public transport operators, motorists, cyclists and pedestrians all need to sign MyPledge. I signed it because I know positive behavioural change makes a big difference.

We can bring the fatality rate down exponentially each year with a respectful attitude towards all who travel on our roads. South Africa demands this, our future generations deserve it.

 

* Andrew Wheeldon, a safe cycling activist, is founder of the Bicycle Empowerment Network.

Cape Argus


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