File photo: Leon Knipe.

We at IOL Motoring have some sympathy for a man who has stand up in front of hundreds of journalists and admit that he has failed the most important challenge of his life, and that his failure - and those of the people who work for him - has cost more than 1400 South Africans their lives in just 39 days.

But we also believe that not all the blame can be laid at the feet of transport minister Ben Martins.

Announcing the preliminary road death statistics in Durban, Martins said 1221 fatal accidents were recorded on South African roads between December 1 and January 8.

“According to the SA Police Service, it is estimated that approximately 1465 people lost their lives,” Martins said.

He said about 40 percent of the deaths involved pedestrians, most of whom had walked onto roads while drunk. And, shocking as those figures are, they are actually slightly down on previous years: during the same period in 2009, 1582 people died on our roads, 1551 in 1010 and 1771 during the 2011/2102 festive season.

 Festive? What are we celebrating?

At least 14 000 South Africans die in road accidents each year, at a cost to the economy of about R306 billion - and you don’t have to be a financial genius to work how many hungry children that would feed.

Yet the minister may have unwittingly pointed out just exactly where the authorities dropped the ball, when he stated that during December 2012, 17 000 traffic officers were deployed to police 10 million cars driving on 750 000km of roads.

That works out to one traffic officer for every 588 drivers, or one cop for every 44km of road.

In 2009 the World Health Organisation’s Global Status Report on Road Safety showed that South Africa averaged 33 road deaths a year per 100 000 people, compared to 18 in Brazil, nine in India and seven in China, widely perceived as the homes of the world’s worst drivers.

The report found that existing South African legislation was among the most comprehensive in the world, but South African law enforcement agencies scored a miserable three out of 10 for enforcement in all categories.

 There just aren’t enough cops out there.

It seems that just too many South Africans hold the belief that the rules of the road are for other people.

If I want to overtake, I’ll do so, anywhere I feel like it, seems to be the general feeling – and if there is somebody coming the other way, that’s their problem. Likewise with drinking and driving, red lights and seatbelts.

All the websites, newspaper ads, gory public service videos and catchy slogans are not going to help. Not until Joe Average gets the feeling that there is always somebody with a badge watching him, day or night, that every time he crosses a solid white line or creeps a red light he’s going to hear a siren and a loud hailer telling him to pull over.

And that’s going to take a lot more than 17 000 traffic officers - although we could make a start by employing thousands of civilians to take over their clerical duties and get every man and woman in uniform out on the streets where they belong.

We also need to recognise that South Africa has more than enough speed cameras; there is absolutely no excuse for a traffic cop lolling under a tree with a radar gun in his hand - in fact it should be a dismissable offence.

But most of all, we need more traffic officers.