Putting brakes to the road carnage,

26 March 2013

It happens in the blink of an eye; in those few seconds your life and those you love can be drastically changed forever. Fatal road accidents in South Africa are sadly a common occurrence and every year it leads to more than 14 000 deaths.

Recently we mourned the death of 24 people who were killed in a bus crash at the Hex River Valley in the Western Cape. While we await the findings of the investigation into the cause of the accident it has left devastated families and communities in its wake.

The harsh reality we face on our roads can only be rectified through a change in the behaviour of all road users and the owners of the vehicles used on our roads. In most cases the tragic stories of innocent lives ruined through road accidents are a result of reckless behaviour or un-roadworthy vehicles.

A common cause of road accidents during the December holidays was drunken driving, excessive speeding, dangerous overtaking, not using a seatbelt and driving un-roadworthy vehicles. It ended in 1 221 fatal accidents.

Over the Easter holiday season last year there were 114 fatal crashes that resulted in the death of 110 people. More than half of those involved were pedestrians, drivers accounted for 27 per cent and passengers 20 per cent.

According to the Department of Transport, almost all these cases point to a violation of traffic rules, including pedestrians crossing the road while under the influence of alcohol.

As the Easter holidays draw close and traffic volumes start to increase, a change in how we conduct ourselves on the road can see a drastic reduction in road fatalities. We share our roads as a nation and have a choice to enjoy our good infrastructure as responsible citizens or be part of unnecessary road accidents.

Road safety is a responsibility of every South African, the success of our road safety campaigns depends on all of us doing our part. The National Development Plan (NDP), our blueprint to develop the country over the next two decades, calls on us to be an active citizenry.

Many will use public transport to travel long distances between towns and cities over the next few days. Commuters are the lifeblood of the taxi and bus industry but often just resign themselves to the overcrowding of vehicles or get into vehicles that are clearly not roadworthy.

We must not allow this to continue. Individuals must demand better levels of service. If we refuse to get into an overcrowded or un-roadworthy taxi, we are taking a stand for what is right.

It is in the interest of passengers to ensure that their drivers always obey the laws of the road. In particular, passengers, including children, should be reminded to wear seat-belts whenever they start a journey. People who buckle up have a greater chance of surviving when they are involved in road accidents.

It is more than just taking a stand; we are making a decision based on safety considerations. If thousands of people begin making the same decision, soon it will become the norm.

Change often starts on an individual level and by ‘being the change we want to see’ we can have a positive impact on society. So let your actions speak louder than words when you travel along our roads this Easter holiday.

Be vigilant at all times while travelling and obey the traffic rules. Be circumspect in your actions and be aware of the actions of other road users. Drivers undertaking long distances must stop regularly so that they are sufficiently rested before they proceed on their journey.

Ensure your vehicle safety inspections are conducted on a regular basis. Owners of public transport vehicles are particularly urged to comply with safety regulations.

If every road user, whether commuter, driver or transport operator, does the right thing we could go a long way to changing behaviour on our roads. Government is committed to ensuring the safety of all citizens on our roads and will do its part through ensuring visible, pro-active and effective traffic enforcement.

The Department of Transport will ensure that the various aspects of driver and vehicle fitness, especially tyres, brakes, lights and shock absorbers, are effectively policed. Traffic officers will be on the lookout for inebriated pedestrians, pedestrians on freeways and jay-walking.

The government will use the full might of the law to deal with drivers who behave recklessly, endangering themselves and other road users. This year’s Easter Holiday Road Safety campaign forms part of an on-going road safety plan to save lives. As part of our plans we continue to strengthen law enforcement, public awareness and education.

Moreover, new measures are being considered including the implementation of the point demerit system to deal will serial and habitual offenders. In addition, ‘naming and shaming’ of these offenders are being considered.

The Department of Transport has indicated that it will review the current alcohol limit for drivers and support the total ban on alcohol advertising. To curtail speeding we are using new technology to calculate the travelling speed between two points.

To keep unsuitable drivers off the roads there will be more stringent criteria on driver's licence applications and the stepping up of investigations of fraudulent licencing centres.

Let us work together as road users to put an end to the fatalities on our roads. We need to pull together as active citizens to create safe roads because every South African deserves to reach their final destination without harm.

Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS)