Authorities should move beyond the focus on speed traps and enforce other rules, such as the wearing of seatbelts, the writer says.

Johannesburg - Transport Minister Dipuo Peters recently said the confirmed death toll on South African roads during the last festive season stood at 1376.

So, roughly, between December 10 and January 10, South Africa lost on average about 45.8 lives per day on our roads.

This has become an annual ritual to which South Africans have become accustomed and our traffic control authorities do not seem to have any idea of how to improve the situation.

The carnage on our roads has persistently become a yearly affair and will, in my opinion, continue.

The reason, though simple to decipher, has consistently escaped those in authority and the media.

We are fed stories of how South African drivers are a selfish and reckless lot, bent on their homicidal mission of destruction when sitting behind the steering wheel. Further accused of road-rage, they are portrayed as defective gas-canisters waiting to implode.

There seems to be this unyielding focus on the driver whenever the topic of why our roads experience so many fatalities during the festive and Easter seasons is explored. Fingers are easily pointed at unroadworthy vehicles, drunk drivers, speedsters and aggressive road manners bordering on utter recklessness. In particular, speeding has become the whipping boy for most of our road fatalities.

THE REAL KILLER

“Don’t fool yourself, speed kills,” has become our national road safety slogan over the years. Really? Does speed in isolation really kill? If it is so, why do we have far more fatalities on our roads in a single day than the high speed autobahns in Germany have in a year?

Our authorities respond with the iron fist against speedsters while ignoring other contributors to our carnage, like failure to wear safety belts or passengers being ferried in open bakkies or trucks like goods.

Most minibus taxi fatalities are a result of passengers not wearing safety belts. One wonders when this glaring omission by taxi commuters is ever going to be corrected by our traffic authorities and the safety-belt rule rigidly implemented.

Instead, celebrities in their exotic and steroid-injected mean machines are targeted, trapped and booked to appear in over-crowded courts. Consequently, they would make the Sunday evening news as an endorsement of our traffic authorities’ vigilance and warning to the lesser-privileged driver who might be tempted to emulate them.

Expensive advertising campaigns are run in the media, cajoling the motoring public and pedestrians to be alert. Still, the carnage continues and the authorities remain none the wiser.

CONTRIBUTORY FACTORS

Drunk-driving, speeding, boorish behaviour and other related factors are just that – mere contributory factors. I reckon that the major causes to our road carnage during festive and other periods like Easter are more structural in nature than human-oriented. According to my prognosis, the main cause of fatal crashes during these particular times is overcrowding of our roads. Thousands, if not millions, of motor vehicles are let loose onto our roads at the same time.

South Africa, courtesy of the apartheid past, remains a migratory nation that commutes periodically in large numbers to and from main urban centres where most of its citizens stay for most part of the year.

Come Christmas or Easter weekend, like migratory birds South Africans rise in unison and trek to the countryside and holiday resorts. Suddenly thousands of vehicles, some of them rickety, are unleashed onto our roads with disastrous consequences. In this we are joined by our neighbours from Zimbabwe and Mozambique, including the annual pilgrimage to Moria.

Too many vehicles on our congested roads equals death and mayhem.

What aggravates this is that our public transportation system is hopelessly inadequate.

What should be done to reduce our road death toll in the long term?

The answer is simple to offer, but harder to implement. Nevertheless, it is still possible to achieve. Let’s however start on the short term. The wearing of safety belts needs to be enforced on all.

The easiest way is to fine heavily any taxi driver whose passengers are found to be flouting this rule.

 

Ferrying passengers in open bakkies should be banned outright. -Pretoria News

Letepe Maisela is a management consultant