Fresh ideas needed on road safety
THE FESTIVE season comes and goes each year accompanied by a grim inevitability – the high death toll on the country’s roads. And it is not only during the festive season that this toll is heavy. The total number of traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries throughout the year is shockingly high, as much as 10 times the rate recorded in a country like Britain .
This year saw Western Cape transport MEC Robin Carlisle wage a highly publicised road-safety enforcement campaign, which included blitzes, threats of tough action against offenders and even showing real-life footage of crashes in the hope of shocking viewers into adopting safer road habits.
Carlisle certainly grabbed headlines with his campaign but sadly it has not translated into lives saved. The death toll now stands at over 100.
Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele too has adopted a hard line, vowing authorities would seize drivers’ licences.
There was also the recent murder conviction of a taxi driver who defied the signal at a level crossing, resulting in the deaths of 10 school children.
Although they might coax greater obedience from those inclined to be law-abiding any way, hype, public shaming and harsh penalties alone are unlikely to impact greatly on driver misconduct and the road accident toll.
Many factors contribute to road fatalities. Drunken driving, speeding and unroadworthy vehicles, overloading, lack of driving skills, not wearing seat belts and ignorance of the rules of the road all play a role.
Enforcement is critical. Far more traffic officers need to be deployed in far more places far more of the time and they need to focus far more on moving violations and less on parking infringements.
Our authorities need to study what practical measures have worked in other countries – road bumps, traffic circles and narrowing of roads at intersections are examples.
Above all the mindset and skills of those who use our roads needs to change and this undoubtedly will take time. A good start would be to ensure school pupils understand the rules of the road for pedestrians as well as drivers.
Meanwhile Carlisle, Ndebele and their advisers will have to go back to the drawing board and seek expert advice away from the glare of media attention.