KwaZulu-Natal - Transport Minister Dikobe Ben Martins is under pressure to spell out how he will put into action plans to halt road carnage when he announces the preliminary festive season death toll in Durban on Thursday.
According to unofficial figures, 1 300 people died on the country’s roads from December 1 to January 1 – the worst figures since December 2006/January 2007 when 1 261 deaths were recorded.
Road safety organisations have said the department was long on talk and drafting policies, but what was needed was more rigorous enforcement of existing laws, allied to public education.
The organisations said it would be watching to see how Martins aimed to implement initiatives such as the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011 to 2020.
South Africa is considered among the worst countries in the world for road deaths, with 33 reported deaths for every 100 000 people, according to the 2009 Global Status Report on Road Safety.
The report, which was published by the World Health Organisation, noted that road traffic accidents killed more people around the world than malaria, and were the leading cause of death for people aged five to 29 – especially in developing countries.
Each year up to 50 million people are injured in traffic accidents globally.
It also found that, though South Africa had legislation in place for everything from speed limits and blood alcohol limits to seat belt and helmet laws, on a scale of zero to 10, it scored an average of three for enforcement in all categories.
Charlotte Sullivan, of South Africans Against Drunk Driving, said the Department of Transport and the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) should “get back to the basics”.
“Law enforcement is the crux of the matter. There isn’t enough visible policing. We need police officers out and about 24 hours, and at every crash, the driver should undergo a breathalyser test,” she said.
Sullivan felt education on road safety and law enforcement should work hand-in-hand.
Howard Dembovsky, national chairman of Justice Project SA, agreed, but was opposed to speed cameras, calling their use a “money-making racket”. He said receiving a traffic fine or being sentenced in court to pay a fine was not the answer.
“People should be inconvenienced. Paying a fine is easy, but having their cellphone confiscated for a few days for using it while driving would be an inconvenience and a deterrence.”
The former policeman said sentencing offenders to “real” community service such as working in the trauma units and mortuaries, exposing them to what happens on the roads, would also be better.
Dembovsky said KwaZulu-Natal was “one of the biggest killing fields” in South Africa and this was because of the condition of the many rural roads, which, he felt, was difficult to police.
According to RTMC, in 2009/2010 and 2010/2011, KZN had the highest number of fatal crashes and fatalities in the country.
Gary Ronald, Automobile Association of SA spokesman, said KZN had a reputation for being a province that was serious about road safety.
“The perception from outside the province was that motorists should be careful when visiting KZN because of its zero tolerance, but this perception has not been sustained.”
Ronald said the province sometimes had treacherous weather, windy roads and a challenging geography which all contributed to its crash rate.
“People drive too fast and during the holiday season, holidaymakers add to this because they are in a hurry to reach their holiday destination.”
Ronald agreed that visible policing should be a focus not only for KZN, but the country. He felt that road users needed to change their attitude.
To cut the road death toll, Ronald recommended the transport department follow through on the policies and projects it introduced, which he felt was its common problem.
RTMC declined to comment on the road death toll and its plans, saying questions would be answered on Thursday at its press briefing. - Daily News