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The youth: Why road safety is important

19.01.2015

IT’S been many years since anything I wrote appeared on this page, but I cannot proceed without paying tribute to Autodealer’s editorial staff who have so ably continued the tradition I started in 2003, of making the back page of Autodealer a reminder of the issues we face as motorists in South Africa.

These are generally twofold: first, the safety issues, which grievously increase our risk of dying in traffic crashes and second, the issues of cost and efficiency, foisted on us by a government, which views the motorist as a cash cow with an infinitely capacious udder. Both are serious problems and both originate from the Department of Transport’s apparent inability to implement worldwide best practice on South Africa’s roads.

But it is road safety that remains my key concern. Since I relinquished the editorship of Autodealer in 2008, the number of people who die on our roads every day has doubled. Or so we think, based on the meagre data available from the Christmas periods. In reality, we don’t know what has happened. This April will mark four years since the government last released an annual road safety data package. And between 1999 and 2011, the only data released was on fatal crashes, which constitute around one percent of all crashes. This negligence by government is a grave disservice to crash victims, because it infers that only those who die are worthy of mention. In reality, the suffering of the dead accident victims, small or great as it may have been, is over. The grief of their relatives and friends will never vanish, but perhaps it will soften over time.

But what of the suffering of the living, the ones who are hurt in the 99 percent of crashes which the government has not reported on since 1998? What of the estimated 80 000 people a year who receive serious injuries in crashes, but are spared death? It has been nearly 17 years since they were last deemed worthy of a mention in official government road safety statistics. But, unlike the dead, their suffering continues, mostly out of the public eye. There is no mention of the driver who loses an eye or a limb, or the pedestrian who is gravely disfigured. Nor do we hear of the passenger who is confined to a wheelchair as a quadriplegic, reliant on family and friends to carry out such everyday activities as eating, bathing, even turning the pages of a book. This is the reality of traffic crashes. With 18 to 25 year-olds being the highest-risk age group, a substantial portion of South Africa’s future talent is meeting with a premature, avoidable and violent death on our roads.

So, when Estelle pitched the idea for the Autodealer Safety Drive to me, I immediately agreed. Over the past two years of us running simulator days for schools, I have seen how easily young people will accept and believe life-saving advice if it’s presented in a practical and understandable way. For the participant who can already drive, the simulator provides a fun environment to learn genuine life-saving skills. And for the new driver, it’s a safe way to grapple with the basics that the rest of us take for granted - like learning that the vehicle goes in the direction one turns the steering. (Most of the time - but that’s a topic for another day!)

The key to making a difference is reaching enough people, and the Autodealer Safety Drive is going to do exactly that. I estimate we will reach 2 000, maybe 4 000 young people this year, and we’re going to meaningfully change the way they behave as road users. I remain as convinced as I ever was that teaching people new skills is the only way to create road safety change. After all, we keep telling youngsters to drive carefully and they keep crashing in their droves. Now it’s time to show them how to implement road safety.

Well done Autodealer for taking the lead!

Article written by Rob Handfield-Jones
19.01.2015
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