Although preliminary figures indicate a downward trend in road accident fatalities over the recent festive season, statistics are still alarming. KwaZulu Natal was the unfortunate champion with the most casualties.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says road traffic accidents are the eighth leading cause of deaths worldwide, killing around 1.35 million people per annum. The average ages of victims are between 15 and 29. According to the Zululand Observer three main causes of road accidents are cell phone use (reading and texting messages), drivers under the influence of alcohol and reckless driving.
Have you ever wondered how a driver managed to “lose control” of a vehicle on a straight stretch of road with no traffic or obstacles around? Most of us have noticed some drivers seemingly losing track of their lanes and suddenly slowing down, with brake lights lighting up for no apparent reason. As you overtake them, you can see they are on the phone.
Figures show that texting and taking calls on mobile phones are responsible for a quarter of all car crashes in South Africa. Using a cell phone while driving can reduce the driver’s concentration by 37%. Consider the average time it might take to read a text message – around 52 seconds. At a relatively low speed of 60 km/h it is similar to driving blind for one kilometre.
Dewald Ranft, Chairman of the Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA), a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI), says the next culprit is driving under the influence. In spite of all the warnings, Arrive Alive stats show that around 50% of people in fatal road accidents have a blood to alcohol concentration above 0.05 grams per 100 millilitres.
On reckless driving, Ranft says, “Too many accident reports claim a car was overtaking on a solid line and hit oncoming traffic head-on. Other causes cited, include speeding, overtaking on blind bends, skipping red lights, ignoring stop signs, sudden braking and making unlawful U-turns.”
In a country like New Zealand, fatalities in road accidents totalled six during the nine-day official holiday period between 24December 2019 and 03January, 2020. The deaths included three drivers, two passengers and one pedestrian. Granted, the population is just under five million and the holiday period relatively short.
But in South Africa more than 100 people were killed during 2019 Easter weekend crashes – 27 in Limpopo and 26 in KwaZulu-Natal alone. Official stats for the 2019 festive period are still not confirmed. But on Christmas Eve Transport Minister Fikele Mbalula revealed that a total of 489 fatal crashes since the start of the festive season had already claimed nearly 600 lives. The minister was concerned about the number of drunken drivers on the roads – almost 1,400 people had been arrested by then.
So, what is the difference? Both countries have outlawed cell phone use while in control of a vehicle; consumption of alcohol or drugs during driving; exceeding the speed limit; and ignoring traffic regulations. But law enforcement in New Zealand is a visible and consistent way of life.
Ranft reckons the main reason for the sorry state of South African road safety could be summarised as a growing culture of reckless disregard for the law.
WHO argues that road safety worldwide does not receive enough attention. The organisation has put together a road safety technical package, Save Lives: “An evidence-based inventory of priority interventions with a focus on speed management leadership, infrastructure design and improvement, vehicle safety standards, enforcement of traffic laws and post-crash survival.”
“It is encouraging to see more visible policing on our roads this year but without a zero tolerance by law enforcement officials and a change in culture by SA motorists, we are not going to see much of an improvement on these unacceptable statistics,” concludes Ranft.