Policy options for reducing road accidents in South Africa
On 3 January 2013, the Road Traffic Management Corporation announced that the death toll on South African roads over the festive season stands at 1279, signalling that the country has not made any progress towards reducing the number of road accident deaths during the period. In comparison, 1261 people died during the December 2006/January 2007 festive period.
The latest exorbitant number of deaths on the country’s roads, which occurred between the 1st December 2012 and the 1st January 2013, casts reasonable doubt on the Road Traffic Management Corporation’s plans to halve the festive season death toll by 2015. After a report by The Star newspaper, claiming that the road traffic safety management plan was failing, spokesman Ashref Ismail said “In general the plan is working … if anyone failed it’s the road users that failed.”
South Africa’s traffic accident rate is dismal by international standards. In a Global status report on road safety, published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2009, South Africa ranked third from last in road deaths proportional to the country’s population, with 33.2 road deaths per 100 000 people. This means that South Africa falls short when compared to countries such as Germany, which has a population of 82 000 000 people, with only recorded deaths of 6 people per 100 000 people. According to the WHO study, only Libya and the Cook Islands are worse than South Africa country, making the country’s roads among the most dangerous worldwide.
The extent of the problem is shocking. In 2009, South Africa lost 16 113 people as victims of traffic accidents. “Families and the economy continue to suffer and bleed, because we are losing manpower when people are killed in accidents. The department is concerned because we continue to witness unnecessary loss of lives,” claimed Tiyani Rikhotso, spokesman of the department of transport. The first comprehensive statistical analysis of road accidents in South Africa, released by the Road Traffic Management Corporation in 2005, found that 90% of road accidents resulted from lawless behaviour of road users, which means that they could have been prevented if road users would have acted duly.
There is no doubt that that the problem needs to be tackled as soon as possible, and in view of the redundancy of most of the accidents, there remain only two possibilities. Firstly, potential drivers need to be better trained, and secondly, efforts need to be intensified to control driver adherence to learned rules (driving within specified speed limits and discouraging the consumption of alcohol at costs). Effectively, wrongdoing on the road should decline when the consequences become a deterrent for violation.
In addition, greater effort needs to be made in the monitoring and effectively punishing road users. Higher fines and retention of driver licences will make people think twice before they drive drunk or ignore road rules. Many countries have drastically increased their penalties for unlawful behaviour on the roads, resulting in a decrease in unlawful actions. If South Africa also manages to make people adhere its road traffic regulations, it will reduce accidents at the same time. Higher penalties may be not a very innovative solution, yet they remain a very effective one and should therefore be considered for implementation.