A tarred minefield

South Africa has one of the highest road-accident death rates in the world and, apart from the grief and hardship of losing family and friends, the cost to the economy is estimated at R50-billion a year, or 3% of gross domestic product.

Yet it is patently obvious that the combined annual budgets of the national transport department, the Arrive Alive campaign, the Road Traffic Management Corporation and the Road Accident Fund dedicated to road safety are inadequate for the implementation of road-safety initiatives, according to Gary Ronald, public affairs manager of the Automobile Association of South Africa (AA).

Elsewhere in the world road deaths have been reduced by starting with the political will and then extending into simple measures and initiatives centred on driver training and awareness, road safety education at a young age, vehicle fitness, road infrastructure and effective law enforcement.

As a backdrop to South Africa’s statistics, each week sees hundreds of deaths resulting from non-seat-belt usage, drunken driving, heavy vehicles speeding, unroadworthy buses and trucks, unlawful transport of passengers in the back of open bakkies and widespread and flagrant abuse of the rules of the road.

“If we are going to spend R50-million or even R100-million a year on road safety, in the form of contributions from government, this is grossly inadequate,” Ronald told the Mail & Guardian.

“We probably need to spend in the region of R4-billion to R5-billion a year to provide an adequate return on investment from the execution of the road-safety strategy.

“This return would be significant in terms of lives saved, injuries prevented as well as the education and awareness campaign that could be implemented.”

Ronald points out that road-safety messages tend to be disseminated only during holiday periods such as Easter and Christmas, with a measure of arbitrary communication during Transport Month.

“But for something like this to work there is a need to have road safety messages in the media every day.” He says the national transport department has been hamstrung by the lack of funding available for implementation.

“Over the years the AA has called for various solutions to provide funding for road safety. These include contributions from fuel sales in particular, ring-fenced specifically for roads and roads infrastructure and safety, but these have simply been ignored over time. Another possible mechanism, perhaps, is that a certain percentage of the fine revenue generated through traffic offences could be put into road safety initiatives.”

Such is the state of congestion on Gauteng’s roads—particularly in peak periods—that flagrant disregard by frustrated motorists of even the basic rules of the road is now becoming common practice.
For instance, they jump queues by driving on the wrong side of the road in the face of oncoming traffic.

“This is something we have raised with the authorities in Johannesburg and we somehow have to come up with a solution,” says Ronald. “In policing this sort of offence one has to be innovative rather than relying on the traditional methods.

“It is indicative of just how little respect the motoring public has for traffic law. In general most people are still relatively compliant, but indications are that percentage-wise this is coming down.” Ronald says that, taking the AA’s seat belt survey as an indicator for traffic law compliance, “clearly we are a non-compliant society”.

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