As predicted time and time again by many who have scribed on the subject, once again our shocking road death toll has risen. And if our Minister of Transport, Dipuo Peters, is not pleading for drivers to behave more responsibly, or praying for divine intervention, true to form another desperate grasp for a solution has been revealed – a call for the reclassification of punishment for drunk driving.
Clearly the minister and her advisers believe that they have no ability or responsibility to amend this shameful situation, in which some 15,000 lives will be lost and several billion in compensation and lost revenue to the nation will occur in 2017. And guess what? Our road fatalities will increase again next year, and the next, until those in authority take personal responsibility for this national embarrassment.
Making comments about the need for road users themselves to make a conscious decision not to break the law is futile in the absence of meaningful and uncorrupted enforcement. The abuse of road traffic regulations is reaching serious proportions and everyone who has been driving over the past 10 years will tell you it is getting worse each year. The reason is simple, because they can break the rules without consequences.
In saying this, I don’t for one minute condone drunk driving, or disobeying the rules of the road (unless it’s a “pay your e-tolls” sign). But this repetitive action and a flurry of visible authority activity over the Christmas and Easter holiday breaks, followed by the aftermath crying over the spilled blood – has become sickening.
We are seven years into the United Nations Decade of Road Safety campaign, endorsed by all four transport ministers during this period and the disaster continues to get worse.
While a consistent “zero tolerance” law enforcement approach is one area of action to start fixing the problem, it requires a more holistic and consistent journey to be effective. Without it, there will always be too many unroadworthy and unlicensed vehicles on our roads. Overloading and unlicensed drivers will drive unchallenged, as will motorists under the influence of alcohol and others who display scant regard for red traffic lights, solid white centre lines and speed limits.
Training, anti-corruption interventions and visible professional policing will be a fine start. We don’t need more police, just more effective policing with strong leadership and a will to drive the attitude and courage to tackle the problem head on.
Brazil has a very similar taxi industry to ours, yet they appear to operate with a culture of exemplary efficiency and observance of road regulations. It is also 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 roughly 50 for every 100,000 vehicles a year, which is almost two-thirds lower than ours in South Africa which stands at just over 134 deaths for every 100,000 vehicles. Argentina has even better results at 24, according to the World Health Organisation’s 2013 report on international road fatalities.
One wonders why Peters doesn’t march her lieutenants off to our South American colleagues for a lesson on how it’s done. Gee I hope that wasn’t a wise suggestion for an excuse to enjoy an overseas trip disguised as a workshop?
A survey conducted by leading research group TNS South Africa a few years ago demonstrated conclusively that the problem is seen as critical by the public and in desperate need of solution: 81% of those polled believed that better law enforcement is by far the best solution.
It is also unfortunate that the good idea of the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) set up some 15 years ago, has not achieved much in this space of reducing road carnage, which was one of its mandates. I recall a media headline in 2007, which indicated that the AARTO Points Demerit system would be up and running across the country within the same year. A decade has passed and we are still waiting, with Peters’ latest announcement that it will be in place later this year. Care to wager a bet Minister?
The sad reality is that if and when the AARTO Points demerit system is launched, the traffic authorities will believe this to be the nation’s panacea to our road fatality problem. However, the minister, the respective Transport MEC’s and metro police will need to realise that all the rules and laws in the world mean nothing, unless they are effectively governed and enforced.
We might hope that one or more of our nation’s large corporate entities will play a meaningful role, together with government, and introduce a positive sustainable road safety campaign. But don’t hold your breath. Unless there is a marketing campaign edge that can be gleaned from a half-baked road safety initiative, a meaningful and lasting road safety drive by Corporate SA, hand in hand with the Department of Transport is simply not going to happen.
And so it is with sincerity, shame and a heavy heart that I share my condolences with the families and friends who will have to bury or cremate another 15,000 plus people that will die on our roads this year. And sadly, had meaningful and accountable action been taken by our transport authorities to address this problem, many a loved-one might have continued to enjoy the gift of life for decades to come.
Another sad reality and outcome which one can only attribute to a lack of leadership accountability, maladministration, incompetence and corruption in South Africa. DM