Road user campaigners and organisations concerned with flawed Easter weekend road accident fatalities
At just after 7pm on April 1, a motorcyclist hit a pedestrian on Kanniedood Road in Weltevredenpark, Johannesburg.
By the time paramedics arrived on scene, the man believed to be in his forties was dead.
He was to be the second known person to die on the roads that Thursday before Good Friday. At 4.37 that morning paramedics arrived at an accident scene on the N1 highway before the Maraisburg offramp, in Maraisburg, where a driver had slammed into a pole. He died in hospital.
Both fatalities happened on the day that Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula claimed there were no road deaths. In a speech given a week later at the N1 South Grasmere toll plaza, when traffic authorities were winding down their Easter operations, the minister told reporters:
“There were no fatalities on Thursday when traffic volumes reached the peak.”
To road-user campaigners and organisations concerned with motoring, this was a further indication that the statistics that showed South Africa had experienced a sharp decrease in the number of road accident fatalities over the Easter weekend holiday were flawed.
This year’s Easter long weekend statistics were compared to 2019, as opposed to 2020, when South Africa was in the middle of a hard lockdown.
Mbalula said that over the long weekend there had been 189 crashes recorded that had resulted in 235 fatalities nationwide. In Gauteng there were 30 accidents that caused 36 deaths.
This compared to 193 crashes and 260 deaths over Easter in 2019.
“This means that we have made headway in reducing the number of crashes in general and fatalities in particular. The number of crashes has been reduced by 2.1% while fatalities came down by 9.6%,” the minister said in his speech.
Such a marked decline in road deaths in a country were over 14 000 people die a year is unheard of. But it is the figure of 260 deaths in 2019 that the Automobile Association is puzzled over.
"There is no record of the 260, we went back to the annual report for 2019 and nowhere is this recorded. So to suggest that the figure is 9.6% down on 260 we can't comment on that," said Layton Beard, the spokesperson for the Automobile Association (AA).
Beard added that the AA had approached the Road Traffic Management Corporate, (RTMC) and the ministry for clarity on the data. They hadn’t had a response.
Verified statistics were important, Beard explained, for ensuring the proper allocation of resources and assessing the effectiveness of road safety awareness campaigns and policing.
However, the spokesperson for the Road Traffic Management Corporate, (RTMC) Simon Zwane said that 260 fatalities over the 2019 Easter long weekend is correct.
"We did an audit where we looked at other data sources and that audit indicated that we had under-reported," he explained, adding the results of this audit would be published as an addendum.
Zwane said that the RTMC had improved its data collection of road accidents. They were now using different data sets from different state and provincial departments as well as from first responders to accidents scenes.
“The 2021 numbers are still preliminary and will undergo the same process,” said Zwane.
While some might question the numbers, the minister believes that the reduction in road fatalities means that the country is heading in the right direction to achieve the goal of halving the number accident related deaths by 2030.
“Our relative success can be attributed to early preparation with education and awareness campaigns in communities, increased visibility of law enforcement officers, stakeholder involvement and a high-profile media campaign,” he said.