By Hlulani Mashaba
Johannesburg - The Easter holiday period is normally characterised by a high increase in long-distance travelling, mostly for religious pilgrims using mass transport such as buses and minibuses.
The risk associated with these types of transport modes is that when a crash occurs, it results in multiple fatalities and injuries. It is a common phenomenon that most drivers travel long distances without taking periodic rests, often resulting in fatigue and compounding the traffic safety situation further.
Many taxi operators also rush while travelling long distances during this period in order to maximise profit. This unwarranted conduct results in various forms of traffic violations such as reckless and negligent driving, unsafe overtaking and speeding. These traffic contraventions often result in fatal crashes. This is a stark reminder that law enforcement agencies must stamp their authority in order to change the status quo.
Gauteng province has, over the past few years, continued to record a rapid increase in the number of catastrophic traffic crashes despite the relentless efforts of law enforcement agencies and road safety practitioners to ensure the safety and protection of all road users through collaborative and integrated heightened interventions measures.
According to the 2018 Global status report on road safety, 1.35 million deaths occur annually around the world from road traffic crashes, while tens of millions are injured, with consequent immense costs to society and countries' economies.The report further reflects that road traffic deaths are the eighth leading cause of death, more than HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and diarrheal diseases.
It is concerning that in January and February 2022, 1 823 people lost their lives in South Africa, compared to 1 521 fatalities experienced in the same period in 2021. The reality is that road traffic-related injuries are a daily occurrence.
During the Easter season period, pedestrian movement on freeways increases for purposes of hitch-hiking and crossing the road, which is unlawful and extremely dangerous. The other risk associated with the period is jay-walking by pedestrians within urban areas whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs having a narcotics effect. All these often result in a number of road fatalities.
Weekends and public holidays are often characterised by significant increases in fatal road traffic crashes. The United Nations adopted resolution 74/299, “Improving global road safety”, proclaiming the (second) Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030 with an ambitious target to reduce road traffic deaths and injuries by at least 50% by 2030.
There are also notable heavily laden trailers, most of which contravene regulations for loads on vehicles such as heights and side projections. Due to the poor roadworthy conditions of some of these trailers, the majority of them do not make it safe to their destinations. They break down on freeways, in so doing, endangering the lives of the occupants as they are found roaming on the freeways.
The following major routes to different provinces, such as the N1, N3, N4 and the N12 freeway, are expected to experience a mass exodus of vehicles during this period. Traffic flow from Gauteng to holiday destinations, particularly to coastal towns, is also a common feature during the Easter period. Various categories of violent and serious crimes such as business robbery, house robbery, and truck and vehicle hijackings tend to increase considerably due to opportunistic criminality, which is exacerbated by the effects of widespread alcohol and drug abuse during this Easter holiday period.
To this end, the Gauteng Department of Community Safety has, jointly with all other law enforcement agencies in the province, developed an Integrated Easter Law Enforcement Plan through the Gauteng Law Enforcement Agencies Forum (GLEAF). The plan focuses on known crime hotspots as well as road traffic crashes and hazardous locations (HAZLOCS) to reduce crime and road traffic crashes, including fatalities.
In addition, the Department will deploy Community Patrollers at pedestrian hitch hiking spots on the freeway and places used to cross the freeway to prevent them from entering the freeway. The patrollers as a force multiplier in the fight against crime are essential at public passenger transport hubs to provide help and support to the public particularly women and children.
The law enforcement authorities must adopt a “Zero tolerance approach” towards traffic violations by drivers and ensure that those drivers who conduct themselves with impunity on Gauteng roads are apprehended to face the full might of the law. In order to realise a Safer Easter Season, everyone must take responsibility to save lives during this heightened period. The law enforcement operations must also be intensified during this period and beyond. It is only when visibility is enhanced and a “zero-tolerance approach” adopted that we can realise the impact on road safety.
Mashaba is the deputy director of media relations at the Gauteng Department of Community Safety.