Road ‘accidents’ mostly avoidable

23 June 2006

Several major accidents on South Africa’s roads have captured the attention of the media recently.

At the same time, the scale of road deaths around the world has been exposed by the Commission for Global Road Safety, which released its Robertson Report this month, urging the leaders of developing countries in particular to do more to address road safety.

Poorer countries hit hardest
The Robertson Report finds that more than 85% of road traffic deaths and injuries occur in low- and middle-income countries, costing their economies an estimated US$64.5-billion to $100-billion annually.

Go to Emphasizing that global road safety is seriously under-resourced, the report urges governments in low- and middle-income countries to adopt their own road casualty reduction targets, which it says should be “ambitious but achievable”.

The World Health Organization estimated that almost 1.2-million people around the world died and as many as 50 million were injured in road crashes in 2002 – and forecast that, unless effective action were taken, these figures would double by 2020.

Road accidents are a major and growing public health epidemic, a “disease” comparable in its destructive capacity to malaria and tuberculosis – yet one which, in most cases, is known to be preventable.

Road ‘accidents’ in South Africa
The first comprehensive statistical analysis of road accidents in South Africa, published by the Road Traffic Management Corporation in 2005, found that 90% of crashes in South Africa in 2004 were the result of lawlessness – in other words, were foreseeable and preventable and hence not strictly “accidents” at all.

Data collected from accident reports for 2004 indicated that most accidents on South Africa’s roads could be attributed to two or more simultaneous offences.

“Human factors” – such as non-adherence to traffic rules and aggressive, reckless, negligent or inconsiderate driver behaviour – were the major contributing factors, playing a causal role in 70-80% of all accidents. These included driving too fast for the circumstances, as well as driving under the influence of alcohol.

“Vehicle factors” such as poor lights, smooth or damaged tyres and poor brakes contributed to a further 10-15% of accidents.

Poor road conditions – which have drawn much media attention lately – only contributed to 5-10% of accidents in 2004.

Changing attitudes
From these statistics it becomes evident that the answers to most road safety questions will depend not only on funding, effective road safety strategies and visible campaigns. They will have to include an attitude change from those who travel and walk South Africa’s roads – one which incorporates respect for the value of human life.

Not only will effective enforcement have to remove transgressors from the road, but ordinary citizens will also have to take responsibility for their actions.

South African commuters have recently been empowered to report dangerous conditions and driver behaviour to the National Commuter Hotline. It is envisaged that this will enable the country’s transport authorities to address these complaints with those subsidised companies neglecting the safety of commuters.

Is it possible to change attitudes towards road safety? The alternative is too scary to consider .

Advocate Johan Jonck is the developer of the website, a private initiative to complement the efforts of the Department of Transport to enhance awareness of road safety in South Africa.