Headlines rattle with the shock of 767 road fatalities in the first half of December 2018, while in 2017 14050 people died on the roads—that is on average 1170 people dying on our roads per month. However, not all of the fatalities have to do with drivers alone. In 2015, only 25% of black households owned or had access to cars, while they dominate roads. Coloured, indian and white households had much more access to cars: 42.5%, 73.8% and 91%, respectively, of the 23 000 households surveyed by StatsSA. On the roadway, driving is not the only skill and not every household has access to this type of mobility but everyone using the road needs to know how to interact with this infrastructure and its users. Roads are contracts of trust between road users, infrastructure and municipalities. The K53 is a driver rules testing framework in SA. The K53 is based on defensive driving and should therefore protect most road users in a perfect world, but it only trains drivers to be drivers. Licenses in SA do not develop roadway cultures that are suitable for all users of the road. However, there is a tendency to associate the K53 with drivers more than all the road users and related systems, especially when it comes to eradicating the deaths on our roads.
If the K53 only educates learners about the road signs, what they mean and how to interact with them it can be assumed that road users should comply. However, pedestrians and people who ride bicycles may not be aware of their rights, responsibilities and other road rules—especially in a country where most people grow up using public transport.
SA has one of the highest road fatality rates in the world—just over 25.5 fatalities per 100 000 in 2017. Vehicle registrations soared from 10.8 million in 2016 to over 12 million vehicles counted from eNatis in October 2018. In general, most road fatalities are black men aged between 30 and 34— by gender only 23% of the fatalities are women partly because fewer women have access to cars. In 2017, traffic crashes were more likely to be head-on 1/3 of the time, or drivers could get caught in multiple vehicle crashes now less than 1/4th of the time. However, there is no reason to see pedestrians of any age accounting for 38% of all the fatalities on the road, compared to 58.8% being people in cars, and 2.6% who are cyclists. It is also unacceptable that that 1 in every 5 pedestrian fatality on our roads involves children under the age of 19. Clearly it is not just about cars on our roads but a broader issue that should account for both pedestrians (non-motorised transport), drivers and how we all share trust on our roadways.
If the K53 only educates learners about the road signs, what they mean and how to interact with them it can be assumed that road users should comply. However, pedestrians and people who ride bicycles may not be aware of their rights, responsibilities and other road rules—especially in a country where most people grow up using public transport. Furthermore, with new road uses like technology enhanced users (i.e. Uber, Taxify drivers/users), Bus Rapid Transport, dedicated lanes and even bicycle lanes—road users are not proficient in the new ‘words’ in the vocabulary of driving and non-motorised transport. The circumstances are much worse in municipalities where communities that walk, and use public transport are not used to having as much infrastructure as car users. There are many towns with more kilometers of road than sidewalks, seating, shade, lighting and shelter for public transport waiting bays.
The K53 as a learner program needs to serve the function of training learners in basic, and higher education how to use the road. It could also serve to professionalise public transport operators—as a driving manual, just like nurses, train controllers and other professionals are highly trained and re-trained to serve the public.
In this sense, it must be asked what and who the K53 is truly for. The private car user with very high mobility and access, or the taxi driver desperately trying to bend the rules to get people moving? If the infrastructure does not account for the fact that public transport carries more people—who are frustrated by a multiple of 12 to 65 when stuck in traffic—how must such a driver respond without compromising safety? Or the average pedestrian, confronted with the hot sun, or stormy day—where will they cross if the intersection is just too far in their view?
The K53 as a learner program needs to serve the function of training learners in basic, and higher education how to use the road. It could also serve to professionalize public transport operators—as a driving manual, just like nurses, train controllers and other professionals are highly trained and re-trained to serve the public. For car drivers, I suspect that the lack of compliance with road rules has something to do with how they (I, we) have been highly prioritized through infrastructure on the road. In the process of reforming the K53, municipalities must take the baton to expand their traffic calming initiatives to slow cars down (not just speedbumps), protect pedestrians and cyclists while prioritizing public transport in addition to its professionalization. The International Transport Forum recently recommend that reducing traffic fatalities requires a broad approach that accounts for roadway design, pedestrian and cycling mobility, digitization and public transport alternatives. For genuine impact, the K53 is only the tip of a figurative* iceberg, because icebergs can’t survive our African heat (*a note for the language police).
* Originally sent to the City Press, January 2019. Unpublished.