Death toll dips on SA?s deadly roads

CAR crashes on South Africa?s roads killed 171 fewer people in December 2000 than in the previous year - but the country remains one of the world’s most dangerous places to drive, according to government statistics released this week.

The Christmas season death toll was down 17.8% - to 785 people killed in 565 fatal accidents involving 713 vehicles - said South Africa Transport Minister Dullah Omar, who stressed that the country ?had a long way to go.?

Arrive Alive, the government’s road safety agency, remained unimpressed with the decline in the annual Christmas road death toll, blaming driver fatigue, alcohol and speeding for the continuing carnage.

“I cannot say I’m encouraged because people are still dying.
I would be encouraged if the number was zero, but that’s not possible. Hopefully we’ll be able to contain this problem,” Arrive Alive representative Godfrey Maluleke said.

The season’s worst accident occurred shortly before Christmas when 20 people, including six children, were killed and dozens injured when the bus carrying them home for the holiday plunged off a mountain road.

About a third of the total number of people killed in December were pedestrians, some of them killed as they tried to cross busy highways, Omar said.

“I am particularly concerned about the number of pedestrians who have died on our roads since the beginning of the holiday season. Over 90% of the pedestrians killed are black and poor,” Omar said.

Japan’s death toll is the same as South Africa?s, but it has about 13 times South Africa’s 6.3 million vehicles. Sweden has 400 road deaths a year.

Road accidents in South Africa claim some 10_000 lives and injure 300_000 people in 500_000 crashes every year, costing the economy R12.8bn annually.

The country’s well-maintained 7_000km road network is the envy of the continent, but many drivers ignore the 120km/h speed limit and fail to buckle up. Drunk driving and un-roadworthy vehicles are common.

Few roads or highways have proper pedestrian bridges and jaywalking, sometimes under the influence of alcohol, is widespread. Arrive Alive is to begin a pedestrian safety campaign next month.

“The solution is not necessarily building pedestrian bridges but educating people,” Maluleke said. - Reuters

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