The International Transport Forum's (ITF) latest Road Safety Annual Report, released on Thursday afternoon, ranked South Africa the worst, out of 36 others, when it came to the number of road fatalities.
Road fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants was at 27.6 deaths in 2011 – a shocking statistic when compared to developed countries like North America with 10.4 or Australia with 5.6. But those developing countries included in the report did not exceed South Africa's road death toll. Both Argentina and Colombia reached around 12, while Malaysia came off second worst with 23.8
The report also estimated economic cost of South Africa's road crashes is estimated to be R307-billion each year – that's more than what Transnet has budgeted to fund its ambitious seven-year infrastructure build programme.
Although not a member of the ITF, South Africa joined the forum's international traffic safety data and analysis group (Irtad) in 2012 as an observer, and is one of just a handful of developing countries included in the latest road safety report.
The data was provided by the Road Traffic Management Corporation.
Even so, the cost could well be more, said Véronique Feypell de la Beumelle, a road safety expert at the ITF. "Economic and emotional impacts are enormous … and greatly underestimated."
She said serious injuries could lead to life-long disabilities which have important human and economic costs. "It is costly for society and costly for the family". But linking police and health data is necessary in assessing the real costs of crashes and "will help build the case for road safety investment".
Stephen Perkins, head of research at the ITF, said the report was based on police data from each country but that integration between this and hospital records was still necessary to derive the real cost. "There are a significant number of people in health records that don't appear in police records … and there are some people who don't appear in either," said Perkins.
The Netherlands and Sweden have in fact integrated this data resulting in the former – which usually ranks second best – slide down to fifth in the latest report. De la Beaumelle said the country chose to do this to highlight the importance of integrating the data, and counting those who may be missing from police records.
Provisional data for 2012 showed fatalities from crashes had decreased slightly to 12 200, as opposed to the 14 000 seen in 2011.
"Pedestrians are particularly at risk, and represent more than 35% of all reported fatalities," the report said.
The research noted that the motorised vehicle fleet in South Africa had doubled in the last 20 years and that between 1990 and 2011 the number of road fatalities increased by 25.
A previous version of this story listed the number of deaths incorrectly, stating them as percentages instead of totals. This has now been rectified. We apologise for the inaccuracies.