‘We drive like this because we can’

2014-01-12 10:00

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Experts agree there is no policy implementation

South Africa’s roads are just a tad less safe than those in Iraq in 2010 when the US military occupation in that country was still under way.

With many South Africans still on the country’s roads as they return from their holiday destinations, Transport Minister Dipuo Peters on Wednesday released preliminary figures that showed 1?357 people had died on the roads from December 1 until Tuesday.

Given the greater number of motor vehicles on the road now, this is on par with the December 2010/January 2011 period’s figure of 1?365 deaths.

According to a report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2010, South Africa’s road fatality rate (road deaths per 100?000 of the population) at the time was 31.9.

That means South African roads were slightly more dangerous than those in Iraq (31.5), and in the same vicinity as Iran (34.1), Venezuela (37.2), Thailand (38.1) and Nigeria (33.7).

According to the WHO report, the only country with a significantly higher death rate was the Dominican Republic (41.7) in central America.

By contrast, Australia had about 6.1 road deaths per 100?000 of its population. Both experts City Press spoke to agreed that if we intend to do anything about road deaths, we need to stop talking about policies and start implementing them.

Professor Jackie Walters, the head of the department of transport at the University of Johannesburg, said one of the first things that would need to be done was to implement a system that docks points against a driver’s licence for transgressions.

“People should know that for these transgressions there are points they will lose. You can already see the points on traffic violation, it’s already in place. I can’t understand why we don’t implement it.”

Graeme Scala, the head of public affairs at the Automobile Association of SA, agreed that the points system should be implemented, saying there had to be real consequences for people’s actions when they broke the law.

“We drive the way we do because we are permitted to. We drink and drive because it’s still socially acceptable to do so,” he said.

Both cited corruption and poor law enforcement as contributing factors to the country’s road death statistics.

This is borne out by a global status report released by the WHO last year.

The report gives South Africa 3/10 for speed limit law enforcement and 2/10 for drunk-driving law enforcement.

Scala said the fact that there have been three transport ministers in three years also meant there was no consistent strategy.

Walters agreed, saying: “Institutional memory in a state department is critical, that’s how you function – you build up a knowledge base. As soon as a minister moves, the director-general goes, the deputy director-general goes.

“Every time you have an election you have the same scenario at national and provincial level. You lose that institutional memory and all the work that’s been done has to be redone – all the mistakes remade.”

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