Here's why SA's latest festive death toll figures are not yet certain

<i> Image: News24</i>
<i> Image: News24</i>

Earlier in January, Transport minister Fikile Mbalula had revealed the festive season death toll figures, however, the Automobile Association says those said figures are not yet certain.

News24 reported that Mbalula said the number of fatal road crashes were reduced by 3% from 1 438 in 2018/2019 to 1 390 in 2019/2020. This resulted in a 10% reduction in the number of fatalities from 1 789 in 2018/2019 to 1 617 in 2019/2020.

However, the AA says the claimed number of festive season road deaths is not certain to decrease as announced by Mbalula in Pretoria last Thursday (23 Jan.

This is due to the fact that the numbers given at the press conference are preliminary, and not the final audited number of recorded deaths which occurred during the reporting period. The World Health Organisation states that road death tolls should have a 30-day waiting period after holidays due to other passengers or pedestrians who are wounded during crashes might die due to their injuries a few weeks after incidents. Therefore, these numbers could be significantly higher than preliminary figures.

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"At the same briefing last year, preliminary figures indicated that 1612 people died on the country’s roads between 1 December 2018 and 9 January 2019. The final audited figure for this period – released for the first time last week – has jumped by 177 to 1789 deaths,” says the AA. 

The Association says while the current reporting period is longer, from 1 December 2019 to 15 January 2020, it cannot be regarded as the final number of fatalities until after 30 days from 15 January.

This 30-day period is used as people involved in crashes during the reporting period may die after the cut-off date, hence the discrepancies.

"We certainly hope that the figure for this festive season is lower but to make an assertion now that there has been a 10% drop from the previous period is premature, and misleading. Only once the final figures have been released can a proper comparison and analysis be done. Until then, there cannot be claims of a job well done,” says the AA. 

The Association further says that while it will welcome any reduction in the number of fatalities on the country’s roads, even a 10% reduction is not nearly enough.

"The fact is that since 2009 close to 133 800 people have died on South African roads – with around 15 000 dying just over the Christmas period alone. This is too many deaths. Efforts to reduce this number significantly need to be intensified, and programmes must be run year-long, not just at festive periods,” says the AA. 

                       Image: Arrive Alive

Road safety efforts worldwide will come into sharp focus in mid-February when the third Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety is held in Stockholm, Sweden. This meeting of transport and health ministers is expected to adopt a new target to halve road deaths and serious injuries by 2030. 

In 2009, South Africa’s road fatality figure was 13 768. In 2018, this was 12 921, a 6% drop. 

"Based on South Africa’s failure to significantly reduce deaths over the ten-year period from 2009 to 2018, the targets set in Sweden for 2030 need to serve as a challenge to government, and to all road users in the country.

"South Africa cannot afford to continue realising these numbers annually without meaningful and practical intervention and leadership,” notes the AA. 

Among the interventions the AA says need to be made include doubling the number of traffic law enforcers, the creation of a single, unified traffic police force in South Africa, an increase in funding for resources for traffic law enforcement, and the enhancement of outreach and education programmes in schools.

"A comprehensive study – commissioned by the Department of Transport itself – has concluded that these and other urgent steps need to be taken to improve traffic law enforcement in South Africa. These interventions, we believe, must be implemented immediately to reduce our road death numbers or we will simply continue down the path of having one of the highest per capita road death rates in the world,” concludes the AA.

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