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Crossing the road should not be a hazard for schoolchildren

Children cross a road in Delft, where there are no road signs or traffic lights. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

Children cross a road in Delft, where there are no road signs or traffic lights. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Aug 29, 2018


“When we want to cross the road, they don’t stop. They keep passing.” - Ovayo, aged 10

As part of the Safer Streets for Children campaign, launched this month with ChildSafe and the Western Cape government Safely Home calendar, we followed two young children, Nabu, aged 11, and Ovayo, aged 10, as they walked to school.

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They both live in Delft, a community deprived of the infrastructure prevalent in more affluent suburbs, such as well-maintained roads with clear markings, well-demarcated pavements and bright, regularly spaced and working street lights.

In the winter months, Ovayo and Nabu’s daily journey to school starts before daylight. They walk down narrow lanes lined with makeshift structures and closed-up stores, and turn into streets that often have no pavements or street lights.

The children sometimes need to walk in the road, sidestepping other people and obstructions on the pavement, and parked cars blocking oncoming traffic from view.

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When they reach a main road, Ovayo and Nabu are joined by their friends. There is a sense of safety in numbers. Taxis rush by, not a metre away from where they stand waiting to cross the road. Cars follow, hooting and passing without slowing down, even as they approach the clutch of waiting schoolchildren.

After a while a gap in the traffic clears and the children rush across the road. There are no signs ordering the traffic to stop, or even slow down. There are no road markings indicating where children can cross; and nor are there traffic lights to bring the vehicles to a complete halt. Ovayo and her friends have no choice: they must cross there, when they can and hopefully all will arrive safely at school. They must do it all again in the afternoon.

When asked what she would do to make the journey easier, Ovayo said: “I would stop the cars because when we want to cross the road, they don’t stop. They keep passing.”

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One of the primary statistics underpinning the Safer Streets for Children campaign was this: at least 50 child pedestrians were killed on the streets in Cape Town in 2017.

Other figures that dominated the campaign: 2 406 - the number of child pedestrians killed on South African roads in the last three years; 63% - the percentage of South African children who walk more than 15 minutes every day to access education; 2861 - the number of pedestrian children treated for road-related injuries at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital between 2015 and 2017.

These statistics and others which emerged from research performed as part of Childsafe’s Unicef-funded project, Prevention of Road Injuries Impacting Children in South Africa (Pricsa), have provided an insight into the scale of the problem.

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And yet, while the numbers create a stark canvas, their abstract nature can obscure the human stories and blind us to the lived realities.

On August 22, we hosted a Street Minds breakfast, as one of the events on the campaign programme.

Central to the event was a question that raises many answers: how can we keep children safe on our roads? Statistics about road safety have been criticised for being inaccurate and incomplete.

However, the Pricsa research does give some sense of the scale of the problem. This is critical knowledge which plays an important role in determining a response to the issue. The picture changes when we consider the reality of what it means to be a child on the street in South Africa. When we think of what Ovayo and Nabu and many others like them have to do every morning and again every afternoon just to get to school and back.

The workshop discussions revealed that many organisations are working with determination and passion to address child safety.

There is a plethora of solutions, ranging from high-visibility strips on school uniforms, to road access audits, more intelligent use of data, better collaboration and co-ordinated planning and programming.

Other valuable ideas came from the youth and members of the Delft community who attended the workshop. These included using new technology and establishing a neighbourhood #YourChildIsMyChild campaign. Under this banner, neighbours could commit to caring for and treating the children of others as if they were their parents.

The World Health Organisation states that “pedestrians have a 90% chance of survival when struck by a car travelling at 30km/* or below, but less than 50% chance of surviving an impact at 45km/* . Pedestrians have almost no chance of surviving an impact at 80km/* ”. This is important at all times, but especially at times and in places where children are on their way to school. Speed really does matter.

When we imagine ourselves as children and truly see, touch and feel what life is like at street level, then the picture and some solutions become clearer. Seeing the simple route to school through the eyes of a child highlights exactly why children’s safety on the street should be a national priority - for everyone.

* Kane is the co-founder of Open Streets Cape Town.

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