Car Crash. Picture: Ashref Ismail

A leaked draft report by the Medical Research Council has suggested that the national department of transport under-reported road fatalities by nearly 20 percent in 2009.

The report, titled “The Injury Mortality Survey”, was prepared for the national and provincial departments of health. Principal researcher Richard Matzopoulos headed a team of nine researchers. They used post-mortems, police reports and hospital records to gather the data.

Its stated aim was to establish the “cause-specific incidence of fatal injury” for the 2009 calendar year. Homicide and road traffic fatalities accounted for the majority of cases, and the incidence of both were “considerably higher than in other countries”.

With regard to road traffic fatalities, the researchers noted that their data was at odds with statistics published by the department of transport for the same year.

The department employs the Road Traffic Management Corporation, which says its mission is improving “law compliance and enhanced road safety in South Africa”.

The RTMC estimated that there were 13 768 road deaths in South Africa during 2009.

The MRC report puts this figure at 17 103.

The Cape Argus left messages for department spokesman Sam Monareng and alerted departmental media liaison Tiyani Rikhotso to the reported discrepancy. Monareng’s office did not respond and Rikhotso referred queries to the RTMC.

“The statistics are sourced from the RTMC, who in turn make use of police reports when it comes to fatalities. The department is not in a position to comment on the MRC survey,” Rikhotso said.

DA spokesman on transport Ian Ollis said the MRC report suggested the department and the RTMC had “grossly misled the public by seriously under-reporting the death toll” on South Africa’s roads.

RTMC national spokesman Ashref Ismail said traffic crashes were investigated and reported by the South African Police Service.

“As the RTMC, we merely communicate their stats and information to all media and role-players. It is strange that the MRC obtains its figures from mortuaries, because most morgues in the country belong to the SAPS,” he said.

Ismail added that the RTMC would “be happy to engage with” the police and the MRC to see where any discrepancies in fatality statistics may lie. - Cape Argus