The University of Cape Town student, Mabuyi Mhlanga, was due to graduate today at the university’s annual graduation ceremony.
Recounting her daughter’s death, Mhlanga said it was a morning with a slight change in routine for their household. The difference was that this time they all piled into the same car for school and work drop-offs.
“My husband dropped me off first and then turned around to take my daughter to school.”
At that moment, however, their daughter suddenly remembered that she needed something from Mhlanga’s bag.
She asked her father to stop the car, hopped out and crossed the road.
“She was struck by a car and died on the scene, with all of us - as a family - watching,” Mhlanga said.
Mhlanga decided to throw herself into a master’s degree on road safety around schools.
What ensued was a series of “mind-blowing” findings.
She said that first there was the fact that road traffic incidents were the second leading cause of death for children younger than 19 worldwide.
Secondly, she discovered that young children still lacked the cognitive skills to connect their theoretical knowledge to real-life situations when it came to road safety.
Most accidents were caused by human behaviour, and that included “dart-and-dash” incidents such as the one that left her family bereft.
“I wanted to investigate if the city could do something to improve road safety - especially within a kilometre or two of the school.
“When I look back, as much as it pains me, I can actually see that behaviour in my daughter. She didn’t take the time to look properly before crossing the road,” Mhlanga said.
Using information gathered from the eThekwini Transport Authority’s (ETA) databases, Mhlanga identified 10 Durban primary schools with the highest rate of incidents.
She found that there were speed bumps at most of the schools, but only on the roads that had a school gate.
Other roads lacked road safety measures and signage, while road markings to demarcate pedestrian crossings were inconsistently applied.
Mhlanga’s study is especially valuable as it holds the potential to bring about practical changes.
“Since I work for the transport authority and my research was based on the information that the eThekwini Municipality collects, I presented my findings at the ETA annual conference and made various proposals,” she said.
Her first proposal was to include practical road safety education in schools.
“My next recommendation was that we adopt a school-zone concept.
“In Australia, it’s a well-known concept where they demarcate an area of about 2km around primary schools, then do full-on traffic calming in terms of speed bumps, reducing the speed limit and increasing enforcement around the schools,” she said.