KZN Transport MEC Mxolisi Kaunda lays a wreath at Fields Hill, near the scene of the 2013 truck crash that killed 24 people. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng / Independent Media.

Johannesburg - Driver error claimed 12 944 lives last year alone, says road safety awareness organisation Arrive Alive.

During a United Nations World Day of Remembrance in Durban on Sunday, the organisation appealed to road users to “halt the needless deaths and maiming” on our roads.

Arrive Alive spokesman advocate Johan Jonck said 832 000 road crashes occurred last year.

He said 85% of crashes were because of human error: lawlessness; not obeying the rules of the road; bad driving; drunk driving; speeding; distracted driving; fatigue and other factors.

Vehicle error such as road worthiness, tyre failure, brake failure and other factors contributed to 10% of road accidents, while environmental factors such as flooding, strong winds, rock falls, mist, rain and smoke accounted for the balance.

Horror crash remembered

Stakeholders involved in road safety marked the day with a wreath-laying ceremony at Fields Hills in Pinetown.

This was the scene of one of South Africa’s most horrific crashes. In September 2013, truck driver Sanele May lost control down Fields Hill. He went through a red traffic light, crashing into cars and taxis. Twenty-four people died and another 80 were injured.

Among those who attended the ceremony was Zibuyile Dlamini, 32. She lost her brothers, Sibonelo and Simon Dlamini, in the crash. Both were returning home after work when the taxi they were in was hit.

Zibuyile, who had four brothers and six sisters, said: “We have not forgotten them. My parents still think about them a lot and so do their children.”

Sibonelo left behind three children and Simon four. Both brothers and the families were from Richmond but rented a home in Kwandengezi. Sibonelo’s sister-in-law, Lungile Dlamini, 33, said her husband still spoke fondly of his brothers.

“He has the daunting task of answering the children’s curious questions of where their fathers are. All we can do is remember them in our daily prayers. It was the saddest day for the family,” Lungile said.

Owner and driver charged

While May, an illegal immigrant, is currently serving a jail sentence, the clock is ticking for the owner of the truck, Gregory Govender. He was charged in the Verulam Magistrate’s Court with contravening the National Road Traffic Act as well as the Immigration Act. He has about a week within which to make written representations to the Director of Public Prosecutions to have the charges against him and his company, Sagekal Logistics, withdrawn.

According to the charge sheet, Sagekal Logistics was registered on September 18, 2009. Govender used the closed corporation to conduct a road freight transport business from Premier Place in Phoenix Industrial Park. May, a Swazi national, applied for and was given employment on September 2 as a heavy-duty truck driver by a Sagekal employee.

On the same date, May was despatched from the Sagekal premises with a Volvo truck and trailer. May was tasked with collecting a load from the Durban harbour container depot. He took it to Johannesburg and returned with a load destined for Durban harbour.

However, on September 5, the truck careered down Fields Hill.

May took the off-ramp from the M13 to Old Main Road in Pinetown and, going through a red traffic light, crashed into cars and taxis which were passing through the intersection.

Call for improved laws and enforcement

Meanwhile, Etienne Krug, chairwoman of UN Road Safety Collaboration, called on countries to accelerate action to improve laws and enforcement on risks like speeding.

This included redesigning roads with protective infrastructure such as pavements; and ensuring all vehicles were equipped with life-saving technologies.

This should be addressed, Krug said, because it is estimated that appropriate emergency care could save half-a-million lives each year.

“The World Day of Remembrance highlights the fact that even after a road traffic crash occurs, there is an enormous opportunity to save lives and reduce disability.

“Countries can do this by providing timely emergency care, medical treatment, psychological support, and rehabilitation for the injured. They should also investigate crashes and provide justice to the injured and bereaved,” she said.

The third Annual National Road Safety Summit would be held on Monday and Tuesday at the Elangeni Hotel in Durban.

This year’s summit will reflect on the resolutions of the past summit and discuss progress and other road safety interventions that are under way.

Huge cost to country

The Road Accident Fund (RAF) has spent more than R110 billion paying out claimants in the past five years.

That’s according to the fund’s chief executive, Dr Eugene Watson. He said that over five years, the RAF had paid for 37 000 funerals and paid out R110bn for 1.1 million claims. He said the figures were extremely high and more needed to be done to curb death on the roads.

Watson and KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison Mxolisi Kaunda handed over child car seats to motorists during a road block on Josiah Gumede Road on Fields Hill, scene of the 2013 disaster

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