December road deaths may reach 2007 level

Johannesburg - The number of road deaths between 1 and 30 December last year would likely be the highest recorded since 2007, an advanced driving skills company said on Thursday.

A total of 1 184 deaths took place over this period, or 39.5 deaths per day, www.driving.co.za managing director Rob Handfield-Jones said.

"This exceeds the record figure of 38 per day for the 2012 festive season. The Christmas period for 2013/2014 will end on January 13, by which time I expect the death toll to be approximately 1 736 deaths based on past and current trends."

'Collective effort'

Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) spokesperson Thato Mosena said Handfield-Jones should not create the impression the corporation was not doing enough, as road safety was a collective effort.

"We need all role players to join hands to reduce road deaths. We have an international commitment to reduce road deaths through the 2011 United Nations strategy of action," she said.

"This is a collective effort."

Handfield-Jones, who has monitored road deaths during the Christmas and Easter periods since 2007, believed the current figure could rise between 15 and 20% after the 30-day waiting period for road deaths had lapsed.

This meant the 2013/2014 festive season could become the first with over 2 000 road deaths.

The main reason for road deaths increasing over the festive season was the failure of government to provide road safety leadership, he said.

According to the transport department and RTMC, the preliminary road deaths for previous years were:

- December 2007: 1 142 people killed (the final figure was 1 535);

- December 2008: 937 people;

- December 2009: 1 050 people;

- December 2010: 1 358 people;

- December 2011: 1 232 people; and

- December 2012: 1 279 people.

The figures for all the years except 2010 were for the month of December. The 2010 figure included deaths up to and including 4 January.

The final death toll figures for the Decembers since 2007 had been higher than the preliminary figure.

"People only drive as badly as their governments allow them to," Handfield-Jones said.

"In countries like the USA and United Kingdom it is socially unacceptable to be a bad driver. Government road safety systems in those countries are aimed at improving competence."

South Africa, he believed, was the opposite.

"The RTMC showed a brief flash of intent while Gilberto Martins was acting CEO, but has since gone silent," Handfield-Jones said.

Corruption

"Licensing is a corrupt mess, with probably half of all licences being issued fraudulently."

This created a culture of bribery among drivers who did not recognise the fatal consequences of illegally getting a licence.

To fix the problem, Handfield-Jones believed government needed to fix the poor gathering of road safety data, overhaul the licensing system, and prioritise law enforcement for moving violations.

"As long as the key priority of law enforcers is revenue generation rather than safety, South Africa's road deaths will continue to mount," he said.

Mosena said road safety began at a community level.

"We can't do it alone. We need to start at a community level to spread and enforce the message that road safety is a priority and we must reduce road deaths.

"We are concerned as the RTMC that there are some among us who are responsible for road deaths, and the reduction in road deaths is an urgent non-negotiable call."

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