As I write this, the Easter weekend is a couple of days away, which means that a few hundred people will soon perish on our roads. In 2014, 193 people died on our roads over Easter. In 2013 it was 241.
Of course, this sum pales in comparison to the number of people that generally die over the festive season. No less than 1376 people died in December of 2013 on SA roads. In 2014 this number dropped ever so slightly to 1368.
What is clear is that an awful lot of people die on our roads every year. How many? That is surprisingly difficult to figure out. According to Stats SA, 5284 people died on our roads in 2012, and 5164 died in 2011 (these are the most recent figures proffered).
But the Road Traffic Management Corporation has its own figures, and according to the RTMC a massive 13 947 people died on our roads in 2011.
Which number is correct? Who knows? But I think that we can all agree that even 5284 road fatalities is a number far too high to be comfortable with.
So why am I dredging up all these morbid figures? Well, Germanwings flight 4U 9525 crashed about a week ago, and the news networks are still reporting on it non-stop.
Airline crashes get an astonishing amount of play in the media – perhaps because a debris-strewn crash site is a rather eye-catching visual.
But it is unfair to sneer at the newspapers and TV stations for reporting on plane crashes when we are all so eager to find out about them. These disasters scare us and fascinate us in equal measure.
And things have gotten particularly heated over the last year or so. We are more sensitive to plane crashes than ever, mainly because so many aeroplanes seem to be dropping out of the sky as of late. Malaysia Airlines lost three planes in 2014. Then there was the crash of Indonesia AirAsia Flight 8501, and the Air Algérie Flight 5017 disaster. Now Germanwings flight 4U 9525 has crashed.
It seems as if it is more dangerous to fly than ever. But is it? Well, there has been a definite spike with regards to fatalities. In fact, according to the Bureau of Aircraft Accident Archives (BAAA), 2014 saw the highest aircraft fatality rate since 2005. When it came to aircraft safety, last year was indeed a very bad year.
So how many people died on airplanes in 2014? A mere 1328 – and remember, that’s a global figure.
Imagine now that somewhere between 5000 and 13 000 people suddenly died on South African planes over a period of a single year. I’m pretty sure that there would be rioting in the streets. Committees would be created, regulations would be revamped, training would be intensified. The media would be in an absolute tizzy. Similar chaos would break out if 13 000 people died from, for example, drinking tainted milk or ingesting unsafe medication.
Why, then, are we so complacent when it comes to road safety? Why does the possibility that 13 000 people die on our roads annually not lead to outrage? We appear to accept road fatalities with a kind of stoicism that is lacking in every other social sphere.
I wish I knew why this was. Perhaps we ignore road dangers in the same way that soldiers ignore dangers on the battlefield. To confront the atrociousness of the situation would be utterly debilitating. Driving is dangerous, yes, but could staying off the roads ever be an option?
I also think that, to a certain extent, we feel like the masters of our own destiny behind the wheel. Yes, lots of people die on the road, but they don’t drive as well as we do. Car crashes are things that happen to “other people”.
Flying in a plane feels like a risky endeavour, mostly because airlines take safety so seriously. They make passengers acutely aware of all dangers during the pre-flight briefing.
This doesn’t happen when we jump in our cars. We don’t contemplate the dangers. Instead, we think about the tasks that await us at our destinations. It would be a good idea to stay vigilant and keep the dangers in the forefront of our minds at all times. The fact is: driving a car is far more dangerous than we want to believe. And we’re all one bad decision away from ending up as a depressing statistic.