SAFETY FIRST: Traffic officers carry out regular checks on motorists and their cars, but their shortage is then felt in other danger zones throughout the province. File picture: Henk Kruger / Independent Media.

Cape Town - With the festive season fast approaching, there are not enough traffic officers patrolling Cape Town’s roads, according to the provincial public works and transport committee.

Budget constraints have meant the municipality could only add 120 officers to the severely understaffed department over the last five years.

Road Safety Action Campaign founder Richard Benson put the national shortage at over 100 000 officers and on a provincial level the picture is just as bleak, with 620 traffic officers employed to oversee the Western Cape’s entire road network.

In a document tabled before the portfolio committee on transport in March, it was revealed that of the 834 posts allotted to Provincial Traffic, 211 were vacant “unfunded” positions, while two were vacant funded posts.

Public Works and Transport chairman in the Provincial Legislature, Lennit Max, who has been calling for more traffic officers, said the current number was “hopelessly not enough”. “That’s because not all of them are on the roads,” he said. “Some have administrative duties.

“Just how big a shortage we have becomes clearer when you break down that figure, because if you divide 620 between the 10 centres in the province, then you have 62 traffic officers for each centre.

“From there you have to then divide the 62 into three shifts and that will either give you 20 or 21 officers per shift,” Max said.

“Road carnage is estimated to cost the South African economy about R400 billion a year. We could have all the traffic police we so badly need - a total of about 120 000 in place of the 18 000 we have now - and this alone could save R200 billion a year and half the 22 000 lives we lose each year.

“Creating over 100 000 new and vital jobs would also boost our economy in additional ways by reducing joblessness,” he said.

Cape Town has about 430 traffic officers, 120 more than it had in 2011 when the situation was described as a “critical shortage”.

“We have managed to close the gap somewhat,” mayoral committee safety and security member JP Smith said on Tuesday, adding Traffic Services was one of several departments that was under-resourced.

“But it’s important to note that it’s not only about the number of traffic officers on our roads, we also have to ask how effective our courts are.

“We have to fix that bottleneck so that we see more results in the payment of fines,” Smith said.

Cape Argus