It’s official. Africans (with a little competition from south-east Asia) are the deadliest drivers on the planet, and South Africans are right up there with the worst of them.
According to World Health Organisation figures, SA has a road fatality rate per 100 000 population of 33,2. That ranks us alongside Gambia (36,6), Chad (34,3), Botswana (33,8) and Nigeria (33,7).
At the other end of the scale you have Denmark and Iceland at 3,1 and 3,8 respectively. Ireland comes in at 3,51, the UK at 3,59 and the US at 12,3.
About 14 000 South Africans die on our roads every year and the government and traffic authorities appear powerless to stop the carnage.
Australia, which reduced its road fatality figure from 30 in 1970 to a current 5,71, is often looked at as a role model for SA. But there are vast differences between a first world country with top-class policing and an established sense of social responsibility, and a third world country overflowing with corruption, aggression and a growing contempt for the law.
If we are to reduce the slaughter on our roads there has to be strong action from government and traffic authorities.
Minister of Transport Ben Martins recently said law enforcement officers were not solely responsible for curbing accidents, and road users had to make a conscious effort not to break the law.
The minister is only half right. Obviously road users need to adopt a more responsible attitude, but improved road safety requires input from government and traffic authorities, embracing educational and training programmes across a broad spectrum of society.
Road safety, particularly in SA, also requires visible policing. Every Easter and every Christmas, traffic authorities swing into action with countrywide roadblocks. They make hundreds of arrests and issue tickets for various offences, mainly speeding, but what about the rest of the year? Road safety is a daily issue and traffic officers hiding in the bushes filling local authority coffers by speed trapping is not road safety.
Traffic authorities need to turn their attention to far more important issues.
Traffic departments in SA are under staffed and ill trained and are, for the most part, corrupt.
At the moment, provincial and local authorities act independently of each other. A seriously thought out and implemented national road safety plan that embraces professional and visible policing is a priority.
Corruption is also largely to blame for the huge number of vehicles on our roads that are not roadworthy. Countries such as New Zealand require cars more than five years old to undergo regular Warrant of Fitness tests. That sort of system would eliminate many of the death traps you find on South African roads.
It is also estimated that around 30% of South African road users have fraudulently obtained their driving licences. That practice needs to be stamped out, and driver training and education, embracing schools and other stakeholders, should be a top priority for the Department of Transport.
The state of our roads is another major concern. Road conditions are a contributory factor to accidents, and the rate of deterioration and lack of maintenance on our highways and byways is alarming.
And then, of course, we have the taxi industry. Complete contempt for the laws of road among taxi drivers, who act with impunity, is having a ripple effect. Drivers who see taxi drivers break every rule in the book with no action from law enforcement officers simply follow suit. The attitude of taxi drivers to other road users is, sadly, symptomatic of the degree of anarchy that is slowly permeating South African society.
Australians, to curb their road death rate, had to accept tougher rules and regulations and no nonsense policing. If we are to follow their example, quick and drastic action is needed from government.
So, for a start, Martins can legislate for a total ban on drinking and driving, and then embark on a step-by-step programme to introduce the other obvious measures needed to improve road safety.
As a parting shot, South African travellers might be advised to avoid driving in Eritrea, where the “hit rate” is 48,4!