Road safety fatality indicators
Road fatalities in South Africa tend to be a hot topic during periods of the exodus (Easter and December), but the conversation needs to go beyond this. In 2018, the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) reported that pedestrians dominate road fatalities— accounting for nearly 38% of all fatalities, this is unchanged since 2005. More specifically, pedestrian fatalities accounted for little over 40% of fatalities in 2005, but since then this has declined to no less than 37% over the years. Recall that pedestrian fatalities are dominated by persons aged between 25 and 35, particularly as a result of jay-walking (crossing where pedestrians are not permitted). Pedestrians and other non-motorised transport users are the most exposed roadway users to fatalities.
11 600 road fatalities occur per year on average out of nearly 1.9 million accidents
In a country with little over 1.9 million accidents, only a small fraction result in injuries and even fewer result into death. Between 2004 and 2018 an average of 11600 lives are lost, and numerous families and communities are affected. Just over 160 000 lives have been lost on our roads between 2004 and 2018, meanwhile the interventions to manage road safety come under significant scrutiny. While at face value, the Transport Minister’s position that road fatalities may be reduced by 10% during the 2019 festive season the general trend is actually downward.
The teenagers of today will represent the drivers of 2030, they need to be targetted and encouraged to adopt sustainable roadway behaviours– particularly the contract of trust.
Growth in the number of vehicles doesn’t translate in rising fatalities
On average, the motor vehicle population in South Africa has been increasing at a rapid rate. The general expectation is that higher vehicle volumes result in more fatalities. But this is not true at a strategic level. What is clear is that increases in vehicle volumes tend to increase the complexity of roadway use, and therefore reduce the probability of conflict— in addition to the rise of new drivers (who may contribute to more caution). Combining the RTMC data and the national vehicle population data it is quite clear that while the number of vehicles increase, road fatalities have remained stable. More specifically, there is a downward trend emerging and 2019 reports are expected to reveal fewer fatalities on our roads than in 2017.
Road safety campaigns and interventions
This festive season, like most others, is largely focused on roadblocks and traffic controls. However, there is a difference: media, marketing and campaigning. Consider the advertorials that have emerged this year from the RTMC about road safety. They are focused on a story, with a dramatic feel: specifically the “choices matter” campaign. It highlights the importance of considering the ripple effects of one’s actions on families and the future we can’t measure, nor imagine. However, the campaign is not new. The Alliance Highway Safety uses the same theme, but as part of a broader programme of activities and interventions which the Choices Matter programme is a sub-set of.
We also see other road safety campaigns from Provinces, such as the Western Cape’s advertorials which lead the ‘Safely Home’ programme focused on highlighting the importance of safer roadway behaviour through some vicious advertorials. However, these were one of the few presentations which focused on highlighting pedestrian fatalities, particularly along highways.
Provincial interventions are key
Given the annual cost of fatalities reaching at least R140bn, how much is allocated to road safety interventions?
Campaigns are just as important as financing road safety. The South African road safety strategy rewires the existing practice, but requires deeper series of interventions which provinces need to account for. However, how do provinces and municipalities intervene without substantial access to dedicating financing for road safety interventions? Over and above the roadblocks, vehicle roadworthiness and breath tests, learners need to travel to school in January to November; students need to commute; cyclists need to traverse their communities: urban and rural areas alike need deep interventions. Funding improvements in roadway designs, pedestrian and other non-motorised transport users need protective infrastructure and education. Meanwhile public transport operators need incentives to encourage them to perpetuate safe roadway behaviour (i.e. seatbelt cultures and so on).
Implementing the National Road Safety Strategy (Revised)
In our current research work, it is quite clear that the organisational structure and principles underlying road safety interventions in South Africa, is misleading. Much of the media and traffic interventions are focused on the large traffic volumes expected along the national roads— which is important to manage. However, road fatalities occur throughout the year— dramatically affecting families and communities as “one life is one too many” as our Ministry of Police and Transport emphasise. Therefore, it is important to move beyond the advertorials, and the peak time traffic interventions for safer roads: provinces and municipalities need a strategic fund focused on improving road safety throughout the year.
Moreso, the National Road Safety strategy is quite systematic, and its implementation is not only a Road Traffic Management issue: but it goes beyond this space. The strategy aims to reduce fatalities by 50% by 2030, below the 2010 base— that is a reduction of nearly 7000 fatalities. For 2020, the target is to reach about 10 000 fatalities through a reduction of at least more than 10%. The strategy depends on various actions— some quick to achieve, others much more complex and require significant intervention. Essentially, institutionalising the contract of trust among and between roadway users, institutions and authorities is important— especially through the introduction of new technologies which may serve as a key basis for intervention.
Driver testing, licensing, policy and learners all need attention
In the principle blog on “Contracts of Trust” I highlight the importance of understanding that all roadway users are part of a system of conflict and opportunities. Furthermore, driver testing and licensing is but one part of a longer conversation: it is important to focus on continuous learning about roadway behaviour that is good for society– this needs to be part of a way of life. Lastly, learners will be in school in January-February, and our readiness in public and private transport road networks, local area planning and transport operator training will be essential. A new paradigm of practice is crucial, particularly as it is an investment in the next generation of road users. This is in addition to the learners who will need to be educated about sustainable roadway behaviour: if treated as a behaviour that needs to be “vaccinated” early, significant improvements and a different focus will emerge. The teenagers of today will represent the drivers of 2030, they need to be targeted and encouraged to adopt sustainable roadway behaviours– particularly the contract of trust. A focus on the festive makes a fleeting statement: what matters is the first kiss to tell a deeper story.