Johannesburg - Over half a million people globally could be saved if countries focused on four basic road safety risk factors, but deaths continue because they are not addressed.
The four are speed, drunk driving, helmet and seatbelt use and they contribute to the deaths of 1.35 million people around the world.
“The death toll from traffic injuries around the world is far too high,” said Adnan Hyder, Professor of Global Health at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. “Despite a UN goal to reduce this heavy burden, people everywhere continue to be at great risk of injury and death unless road traffic strategies are changed to put protections in place.”
On Thursday and Friday this week the UN General Assembly launched a high-level meeting on global road safety June 30-July 1 in New York.
To coincide with this the journal “The Lancet” this week published a series on road deaths that looked at strategies that would save lives and prevent injuries.
Hyder was the lead author on the series and he and his colleagues studied the four road safety risk factors – speed, drunk driving, helmet and seatbelt use. They concluded that by implementing proven road safety interventions that target the four risk factors it could save up to 540 000 lives globally a year.
South Africa had a high road fatality rate. It is estimated to stand at 26/100 000 of the population. But tackling the problem goes beyond just dealing with the four universal four basic road safety risk factors.
“In South Africa all those UN stats will remain important, like drunk driving, speeding and your safety belt wearing, but for me it is addressing pedestrian deaths and safety belts. That will result in a big reduction in road deaths,” said advocate Johan Jonck, who runs road safety advocacy website Arrive Alive.
Jonck added that between 35% and 40% of road deaths in South Africa were those of pedestrians.
“I don’t think other countries have these numbers,” he said.
Another factor contributing to road crashes in South Africa are potholes, according to Jonck.
“We used to say that when it came to road accidents, 85% was caused by human factors, 10% the vehicle and 5% environmental factors like rain or potholes.
“Recently, according to the Road Traffic Management Corporation, the number of accidents caused by potholes has increased.”
Layton Beard, spokesperson for the AA in South Africa, said education would go a long way in reducing road accidents.
“We need heavy, intensive roadside education, and that needs to happen from a young age, and it needs to go all the way through. And that needs to happen across the country in every school,” he said.
Beard also stressed the importance of better law enforcement, saying that for example, when it comes to drunk driving offences, only 9% of those caught are prosecuted. Part of this is dealing with corruption.
But while there is global emphasis on encouraging motorists and passengers to use safety belts, the problem in South Africa is often with the vehicles.
“A heck of a lot of vehicles don’t even have seatbelts. If you look at minibus taxis, which carry 75%, of the commuting public, the older ones don’t have seat belts for passengers,” said Lee Randall, founder of the Road Ethics Project.
On Thursday the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution to improve global road safety, with a commitment to reduce fatalities by half by 2030.
It is a goal South Africa is unlikely to reach, considering road deaths are increasing.
“The world has been through a decade of action for Road Safety 2011 to 2020. That decade has produced heaps of evidence, so we now know how to prevent most crashes and how to make those that still happen, less severe. So it’s kind of inexcusable that we as a country just accept that we must meet this burden,” said Randall.