File picture: Luis Hidalgo / Reuters.
Durban - Research in 2013 showed that South Africa has one of the highest road fatality rates in the world, accounting for 31.9 fatalities per 100 000 population.

Drivers and passengers are not the only victims in these incidents. Pedestrians are also at risk, and child pedestrians are particularly vulnerable.

One study, completed in 2012, revealed that nearly 75% of pedestrians involved in fatalities were children under the age of 15. Over the last three years, an average of 243 child pedestrians were killed on the roads over the December period.

These events have a clear emotional cost to the families, but the financial burden on society is even higher. Children who die on the roads will never be able to earn an income or provide any support for their ageing relatives.

Tragically, the child pedestrian death toll is not seasonal. Children are at risk at any time of the year. As part of the Preventing Road Injuries Impacting Children in South Africa (Pricsa) project, we sought to understand why.

To some extent, the findings of our research are entirely expected: children in lower-income areas are more likely to walk and are therefore most at risk; and more so if they live in urban areas.

Children who walk are more vulnerable than those who travel in private cars or minibus taxis. And children who walk longer distances are more likely to be injured or killed on the road than those who walk shorter distances because of their proximity to school.

However, the data’s predictability makes it no less shocking when we begin to hone in on the more detailed statistics.

One of the findings that emerged was that children are most at risk when they are travelling to or from school.

Children in KwaZulu-Natal, for example, walk longer distances than children in other provinces: 81% walk for longer than 15 minutes to get to school. Between 2015 and 2017, KZN recorded 828 child fatalities - the highest number in the country, followed by Gauteng with 580.

In our research, we drew on various data sources that considered the picture on a national, provincial and district level. Data supplied by the eThekwini Municipality, for example, revealed that, between 2011 and 2017, 5273 children were involved in vehicle crashes. Of those, 280 were killed and 1606 were seriously injured. Many of those crashes happened in accident hot spots.

Our analysis of the top 15 hot spots in the municipality revealed that 85% of crashes in those locations took place during the school year, during daylight hours between 7am and 8am, and 3pm and 4pm.

The timing of these incidents correlates with the times that children are walking to and from school.

In a ranking of incidents by school, Inkonkoni Primary School recorded the most incidents within 1km of the school. Between 2011 and 2017, 14 children were killed per year in the streets around the school.

Most of the children killed were walking on or crossing the road. Pedestrian action does come into play: some were crossing outside of marked crossings.

However, given children’s limited cognitive ability and limited attention span, the burden of responsibility lies with the drivers.

At the 13 most notorious hot spots around high-risk schools, the vast majority of crashes (456) were caused by drivers entering the road unsafely, 42 were due to speeding and in 29, drivers did not see the pedestrian or vehicle they collided with.

Seeing these figures laid bare indicates the urgent need to do more to give children a better chance to become the leaders of tomorrow.

In this instance, education is not only about academics. It must extend to educating the drivers whose actions have a direct influence on whether those children live or die.

Janmohammed is project manager for Unicef/Childsafe PreventinG Road Injuries Impacting Children in SA.

The Mercury