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Why we will continue to die on our roads

18 Mar 2013 at 11:51hrs | Views
South Africa  ranks among African countries with the highest rates of death arising from road accidents and this despite the fact that the African continent is one of the least motorised regions in the world.

In a Global status report on road safety, published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2009, South Africa ranked third from last in road deaths proportional to the country's population, with 33.2 road deaths per 100 000 people. This means that South Africa falls short when compared to countries such as Germany, which has a population of 82 000 000 people, with only recorded deaths of 6 people per 100 000 people. According to the WHO study, only Libya and the Cook Islands are worse than South Africa, making the country's roads among the most dangerous worldwide.

The extent of the problem is shocking. In 2012 South Africa lost 14 000 people to road accidents and this figure is more or less the same every year. As Tiyani Rikhotso, spokesman of the department of transport says "Families and the economy continue to suffer and bleed, because we are losing manpower when people are killed in accidents. The department is concerned because we continue to witness unnecessary loss of lives,"

The first comprehensive statistical analysis of road accidents in South Africa, released by the Road Traffic Management Corporation  found that 90% of road accidents resulted from lawless behaviour of road users, which means that they could have been avoided if road users had acted lawfully. The key risk factors leading to accidents are drinking and driving, speeding, failing to use seat-belts and child restraints. Ignorance and arrogance, unroadworthy vehicles & being blind to cyclists and pedestrians.

Drinking and driving
If you get caught driving under the influence of alcohol it means you will need to appear in court. If you're found guilty, you could face up to 6 years in jail. You could also be liable for fines of up to R120 000 and your driver's license may be suspended. You will also have a criminal record which can have serious ramifications for the rest of your life. Of course, the worst case scenario is that you could kill someone else on the road or kill or injure yourself. "Drunk driving is one of the biggest threats to road safety in South Africa," says Gary Ronald, Head of Public Affairs for the AA (Automobile Association of South Africa). "More than 21,000 people have been arrested on our roads in the last year as a result of drinking and driving, and it has been shown that 50% of people who die on our roads are over the legal limit."

Many motorists ignore the dangers that over-speeding pose to their safety and to those of others around them as well. Speed limits are implemented on roads so that motorists can  be aware when they are faster or slower than other vehicles. High speed car collisions have claimed several thousands of lives and will continue to cause tragic accidents, especially to young inexperienced drivers if they are not be cautious enough. But why do people speed up? Most  motorists want to cut their travel time by speeding up without fully understanding that they can get into further trouble if they are caught speeding and  have to pay speeding fines or can be involved in a terrible accident. A victim can suffer from a variety of serious injuries in a collision caused by over speeding. These injuries can permanently damage one's life and cause him and his family a great deal of pain. Some of the common speeding accident injuries are whiplash, spinal cord injury, head and brain injuries and broken bones.

Wearing a seatbelt is said to double your chances of surviving a serious crash, yet despite the benefits shown by road safety research time and time again, too many people do not take the time to wear a seatbelt which can be a life or death decision √¢‚Ǩ‚Äú both for you and your passengers. It doesn't matter if you are only travelling a few kilometres because most road crashes happen close to home. It does not make any difference if you are sticking to the posted speed limits or travelling very fast because a crash at 40 kilometres is like falling from a two storey building onto concrete.  Passengers not wearing seatbelts can kill or seriously injure others in the car if, for example, the driver has to brake suddenly.

Ignorance or arrogance?
Could the fact that the rules of pedestrian safety mostly written in the English language in South Africa misunderstood? Does this explain why people jump out suddenly in front of speeding cars or often wander along the centre dividing line at night as vehicles speed past in both directions wearing dark coloured clothes? Why do drivers  not use their indicators, stop at a red light or use  rear-view mirrors?

Unroadworthy vehicles
On this one South Africa  need not reinvent the wheel. We can learn from other countries, such as the UK, which have had regulations in place for years to ensure that unroadworthy cars are kept off the roads. Their system is simple. In order to buy the yearly road tax disc, drivers must present a valid roadworthy certificate and motor insurance certificate. The UK police now also have a system which automatically scans number plates and shows officers if any of these are no longer valid. It would be easy for our traffic department to introduce the same system for applying for a road tax disc which, as well as keeping unroadworthy vehicles off the road, would also ensure that all drivers were covered by motor insurance. As I write this 24 people where killed in Western Cape in a single bus accident last friday. Initial reports show that the bus did not have a valid road worthiness certificate at that and it is believed its brakes may have failed.

Being blind to cyclists and pedestrians
As its to be expected considering the above South Africa  is lagging behind other countries when it comes to protecting vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists. Cyclists, pedestrians  and cars are expected to share most roads, single file, following one  another. Bicycle brakes aren't that great. What if the cyclist tries to stop and the bicycle skids? What if the cyclist falls? There will mostly likely be a car right on his tail with the driver having  a cellphone jammed to his ear.

We will continue to die as long as we lack the courage needed to do the correct and simple things on our roads like obeying all road rules. The deaths on the roads will not be reduced until the people want them to be. Is now not the time to raise your voice and not wait quietly for death or injury when the driver of your vehicle is drunk, speeding, failing to use a seat-belt and child restraints or shows ignorance and arrogance, or has a clearly unroadworthy vehicle & is being blind to cyclists and pedestrians?

(Velempini Ndlovu is a freelance journalist based in Johannesburg, South Africa  he can be contacted on 0768297234 Sent via my BlackBerry from Vodacom - let your email find you!

Source - Velempini Ndlovu
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