There will certainly be no meaningful decline in the number of accidents and more than 14,000 deaths on our roads for another year, if the latest statements by our new minister of transport, Ben Martins, are anything to go by. On Sunday 9 December, at the launch of this summer season’s road safety campaign, Martins said “law enforcement officers are not solely responsible for curbing accidents. Road users themselves have to make a conscious decision not to break the law on the road.”
Well, hello! The problem with our road death toll is largely because the law enforcement officers are not doing their job, making South Africa’s road accident death rate among the highest in the world at over 200 deaths per 100,000 vehicles. And each year, the numbers remain unacceptably high. A recent survey conducted by leading research group TNS South Africa, demonstrates conclusively that the problem is seen as critical by the public and in desperate need of solution and that 81% of those polled believed that better law enforcement is by far a better solution.
Our last minister of transport, S’bu Ndebele, suggested we reduce the speed limit to address road accidents. My, we are good at clutching at straws, as opposed to being serious about tackling the real issues that contribute to our high road death situation. Our current speed limits are safe and are not the issue here. What we require are proactive measures to address the problems.
While an improved “zero tolerance” approach to law enforcement is one area, a holistic approach over a longer period is absolutely crucial in finding effective solutions.This involves not only the general disregard for the rules of the road which is especially prevalent among taxi drivers (and now emulated by growing numbers of “non-taxi” motorists), but also matters such as unroadworthy vehicles, overloaded and unlicensed vehicles, unlicensed drivers and motorists under the influence of alcohol. All of these interventions require well trained and incorruptible policing manpower and resources.
The idea of the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) when it was set up over a decade ago, was a good one, but to date, it has not really achieved much and is now facing closure, another failed state attempt at dealing with a serious issue. The RTMC has never had the leadership, capacity or teeth required to standardise processes and get serious road traffic law enforcement back in place. So the metros and municipalities continue to do their own thing and run roughshod over the guidelines and regulations for standardised enforcement.
So here are some suggestions Minister Martins: Get your authorities to stop turning a blind eye to the real violations that ultimately cause the carnage on our roads. Deal with the taxi industry. It is no secret they are the worst traffic offenders in South Africa and society remains puzzled at the hesitation to tackle this industry. Get on top of the roadworthiness of vehicles. Stop the overloading. Stop the corrupt sale of driver’s licenses at testing stations and the high incidence of unlicensed drivers. Yes, change your approach and face it: the lack of proper and effective enforcement is responsible for much of the road carnage problem in South Africa.
There is a very similar taxi industry in Brazil which functions with exemplary efficiency and observance of road regulations and it is worth noting that Brazil, which has a population of over 200 million people (nearly four times our population), has a road traffic death rate of 70.9 for every 100,000 vehicles a year, which is almost two thirds lower than ours in South Africa which stands at 209. Argentina has even better results. We could learn a lot from our South American colleagues.
While you’re at it, stamp out the insatiable desire of metros and municipalities to use camera traps and policing to swell their coffers at the expense of road safety. In the UK, some municipalities have outlawed camera trapping because it does not serve the purpose for which it is intended – safer driving. I believe it is time to challenge this rogue behavior in South Africa.
Besides the shocking deteriorating of our road conditions, our road signage, road markings and dire traffic light problems also require some of your time and attention.
Will 2013 see a concerted effort and action by our transport authorities to reduce death on our roads? Looking around us, I can’t see the conviction of strong public service leadership in this space. So I bow my head in sorrow, shame and disgrace that we will not see the long overdue reduction of the needless death that will haunt the roads of our country for another year. DM
"Charms strike the sight but merit wins the soul." ~ Alexander Pope