Johannesburg – Road crashes cost the South African economy over R176bn last year, the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) said on Wednesday.
The RTMC last week called on authorities to step up drunk driving operations in order to curb the deadly results of driving while under the influence.
The RTMC said deadly crashes as a result of alcohol cost the South African economy R18.2bn last year.
Simon Zwane, the spokesperson for the RTMC, said there were 12 956 deaths on South African roads last year, costing the economy over R176bn.
He said the cost to the economy was lower than in 2018 as the country experienced fewer road crashes, but the country had not met goals set under the United Nations Decade of Action.
When asked how the country was doing in reaching those goals, Zwane said: “We are doing badly. We are not doing well, we have missed that target.”
In a 2016 report which explored the cost of road crashes to the economy, the RTMC said the high number of road traffic crashes and their associated consequences had a significant impact on society which continues to hamper socio-economic development and impact on the well-being of all South Africans.
“This impact is measured in terms of human lives lost, ‘pain, grief and suffering’, as well as an increasing cost to the economy.
“Road traffic crashes cost estimation comprises three main cost categories, viz., human casualty costs, vehicle repair costs and incident costs.
’’Understanding the cost elements of these cost categories facilitates informed decision-making for designing and implementing appropriate actions and interventions aimed at reducing RTCs and their impacts,” the report said in part.
Caro Smit, the director of South Africans Against Drunk Driving, said the cost of road deaths and impairment was staggering.
“If you think of the number of families every year who lose breadwinners because of crashes, you have families going into poverty because a parent has been paralysed and the family has now been pushed into poverty,” she said.
Smit said the problem was that there was under-testing and the conviction rate for drink driving was between 2 to 7%.
“There are lots of solutions. In terms of drink driving the solution is testing, testing, testing, swift appearances in court and prosecution. At the moment our conviction rate is between 2-7%
“Too few people get tested and very few get convicted. People drink and drive because they can get away with it.
“I have been driving for 40 years and I have never been tested once.
“We have 13.4 million drivers in South Africa. We need to have at least 13.4 million tests at least per year so that people know the chance of them being able to drink and drive is low, so they don’t do it,” she said.
Smit said she was in two minds about the government’s push for zero-rated alcohol limits when driving, but said she was mostly supportive of it because people did not understand how many drinks it took to be over the 0.05 mg limit.
“We don't really need zero because we can stick to the 0.05 mg limit and test aggressively, but our enforcement is not good enough and our education of alcohol and driving is not good enough.
“People don't know what the limit is and how many drinks it takes to be above the limit,” she said.
Smit said one 750ml beer quart (Ngudu) would leave a motorist over the limit, as it would be 0.08mg.
“Just 1 Ngudu and you are already at 0.08 mg and it will take four hours to sober up again,” she said.
“It seems that the only thing that will work is zero, I think that's why the minister has done it and at this stage it’s the only thing that will make a difference,” she said.
Smit called on alcohol companies to partner with NGOs that were already dealing with alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence and alcohol safety around driving.
“Going into the next decade, the United Nations Decade of Action worldwide is looking at a safe systems approach in terms of road crashes. We need to lessen the injuries after crashes, we also need to decrease our speed limits in residential areas and high pedestrian zones to 30km/h, and the speed on our highways must be reduced to 100km/h.
“This will contribute to lessening the carnage on our roads,” she said.