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Five pillars to a safer road system


ALBERT Einstein said that a person is insane if he or she does the same thing over and over again, but expects a different result every time. I’m sure this comment was aimed at someone within the realm of quantum, or nuclear physics, but it’s easily adaptable to most situations.

Personally, I think it fits in rather nicely with the road safety issue. Every year more than a thousand people are killed on the road during the festive season and yet nothing radical transpires to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

What we need is a plan not merely based on “hoping” that people don’t crash into one another. Otherwise the entire country is insane, because year after year we do exactly the same thing and then we act surprised and shocked when the
outcome is exactly the same.

At the time of writing, from 1st December, around 1 300 people (and counting) have died on the roads over the festive season. I can’t be the only one who’s not surprised by this. One thing I am thankful for is the vast amount of media attention this horrid subject has received. Perhaps now it’ll receive the attention it so desperately needs.

Unfortunately, the direct result is another round of that favourite political activity – Blame Game. The first entity to go on record was the Road Traffic Management Corporation’s (RTMC’s) spokesman, Ashref Ismail, who stated that road users – not the plan - have failed South Africa. 

I found what I assume is part of this plan on the RTMC’s website. It’s a presentation delivered by Mr Collins Letsoalo, the acting CEO of the RTMC. Called, Safe Roads in South Africa, it contains possible strategies for reducing road deaths in South Africa.

The basic principles are part of the United Nation’s (UN’s) Decade of Action for Road Safety. This global plan contains five key pillars which aim to develop a road transport system that is better able to accommodate human error and take into consideration the vulnerability of the human body. It’s a good plan, but as soon as you look at the different pillars you realise we still have a long way to go.

Pillar One (Road Safety Management) for example, mentions pro-active law enforcement and the eradication of corruption in the traffic fraternity. That’s going to take more than the two years we have left before 2015 to sort out…

Pillar Two also has its problems as it emphasises on the importance of road safety audits and the identification and management of crash hotspots. A great idea that would work beautifully in practice.

Pillar Three has to do with safer vehicles. A big part of this pillar is the introduction of periodic vehicle testing, a subject we’ve covered before on one of our back pages. In essence, it’s a very good idea to check older vehicles for roadworthiness, but as we said before, it just opens up a whole new can of worms as far as corruption goes. That takes us back to Pillar One and the need to sort out corruption first.

Pillar Four deals with safer road users. At this point I’d like to make a shocking statement – I agree, to some extent, with Mr Ismail. We have, in part, failed ourselves. We, as South African road users, have to accept the fact that we’re partly to blame for the lawlessness on our roads. For proof, you need only drive somewhere and observe.

On the other hand, Pillar Four also mentions smarter policing in respect of moving violations. I’ve long believed the police should cease their obsession with speed trapping and focus on dangerous driving instead. Having said that, it’s far easier and way more profitable to just sit back and trap people from behind a bush, but that’s a subject best left for another day.

Pillar Five is the biggie… Post Crash Responses. It basically states we need an information database to monitor the situation. A great idea and one that’s easy enough to implement, but, sadly, it’s been neglected over the last few years. The finalised death toll figures for Christmas 2011/2012 were only released on 22 December 2012. According to road safety expert, Rob Handfield-Jones, it is appropriate to ask why the RTMC has taken almost ten months to release the 2011/2012 death toll figures which should have been available to them by the end of February 2012.

There have long been discrepancies in the reporting of fatalities over the festive season and this may be the reason why we can’t seem to rid ourselves of this problem. Not only with the actual figures, but the way they’re reported.

According to Handfield–Jones, we need a fatalities/100 million/km fatality rate which takes into account things like economics, roads, enforcements and human factors to permit observers to determine whether death risk on the roads has increased or decreased. Fatalities/100 million/km is regarded as the leading road safety indicator worldwide. The SA Department of Transport has not released anything to this effect since 2006.

Perhaps if the RTMC could go back to reporting the death toll figures in this fashion, they can better understand what’s going on out there. What we need is a tailor-made solution and not a one-size-fits-all answer.


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