The Department of Transport has decided to go ahead with its bid to reclassify all traffic offences as Schedule 5 offences in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act, following the reckless driving recorded over the Easter holidays.
If an offender is charged with a Schedule 5 offence, the minimum sentence is 15 years for a first-time offender.
"The reclassification will ensure that our quest for a mandatory minimum sentence for drunken driving, inconsiderate, reckless and negligent driving is realised," said Transport Minister Blade Nzimande.
The minister was speaking at a media briefing in Parliament, where he announced that 510 road deaths had been recorded during the Easter period.
The figure represented a 14% increase from the 449 who died during the same period last year. The fatalities were recorded between March 29 and April 9.
Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) CEO Makhosini Msibi said that the proposed re-classification would not happen immediately, as the decision still needed to undergo the required parliamentary processes.
"It is going to take some time – it might not even happen this year," said Msibi.
Failed to reduce fatalities
Nzimande expressed his disappointment at failing to meet the department’s target of a 10% reduction in fatalities.
"Ladies and gentlemen, a huge effort was made prior to, and during, the holiday period to reduce crashes, fatalities and injuries to achieve a 10% reduction," Nzimande said.
Road safety education and communication activities had been implemented by provincial departments, local municipalities and transport entities.
"Highly visible law enforcement operations were also conducted on all major routes, with a focus on drunken driving. Law enforcement agencies conducted operations, targeting areas and events where most alcohol is consumed," he said.
KwaZulu-Natal had the highest number of fatalities (111). However, the Northern Cape (with 27 deaths), the North West (34) and Limpopo (80), recorded the highest increases in fatalities.
The department also noted that road accidents affected the poor and working class disproportionately more than other groups.
"This Easter, there was a noticeable shift towards the rural poor who use the roads as pedestrians," Nzimande announced.
'Male drivers account for 71.1% of fatalities'
He said the number of pedestrians who were killed on our roads over the holidays increased from 33.8% in 2017, to 37.3% this year.
There was also an increase in the number of drivers who died over the same period in 2018, from 20.5% in 2017, to 25.6%.
Nzimande said passengers were the only user group where there was a decline in the number of deaths over this period, from 43% in 2017, to 35.5% in 2018.
"The preliminary report shows that the main contributory factors to road fatalities are related to human behaviour, with male drivers accounting for 71.1% of fatalities and females for 24.1%," he said.
This was demonstrated by the successful arrests of 6 435 drivers who were caught speeding, 3 208 drivers driving unlicensed vehicles, 300 drivers without driver’s licences, and 1 698 who were driving vehicles with worn tires.
Despite the troubling statistics, Nzimande said that he had not lost hope.
"We will relentlessly continue our efforts to save lives, because Nelson Mandela taught us: 'The glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall'."