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Road safety in South Africa – Lost lives and billions of rands in damages

South Africa’s road safety standards have reached a catastrophic low point with grave implications for citizens’ social, economic, and physical well-being, according to the Organization Undoing Tax Abuse’s (Outa) senior legal project manager, Andrea van Heerden.

The high number of road deaths and injuries is a national crisis that not only needs more awareness but also immediate action, she said.

Beyond the loss of human lives, the large number of vehicle-related accidents in the country has a significant impact on society, hampering both social and economic development. The Road Accident Fund compensation alone has paid out R45 billion to those who have been maimed in car accidents.

The transport sector also directly contributes 6.5% to South Africa’s GDP, which should make it a much higher priority for government efforts, said the organisation.

Outa has accused the Department of Transport of not living up to its promise as outlined in the 2016-2030 National Road Safety Strategy, which aims to reduce road fatalities by 50% by the end of the decade.

This is the same goal outlined in the United Nations’ second Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030 strategy, to which South Africa is a signatory.

Despite this, the country has an exceptionally-high crash rate compared to international standards and frequently fails to implement the best practices in road safety, said Van Heerden.

What’s the plan?

Outa recommends that the South African government concentrate on four key areas to improve road safety, which are:

  • Vehicle and driver fitness
  • Communication and public education
  • Traffic law enforcement and law compliance
  • Infrastructure, management, and information systems

Crucially, government needs to adopt a strategy that will bring about behavioral changes which should see a marked improvement in road user responsibility, said Van Heerden.

To this end, it is also recommended that the country develop, implement, and monitor evidence-based safety policies, as laws can only be successful when one fully understands the problem and the factors that cause it.

“Without such indicators, policymakers and other stakeholders cannot assess the effectiveness of policies and interventions or identify the measures that still need to be taken,” she said.

Consequently, OUTA has provided a list of the actions that it wants the government to implement, which include:

  • Increase visible policing to address road safety concerns
  • Establish an adequately-funded lead agency for road safety issues
  • Hold accountable those in various positions when targets are not achieved
  • Educate the public about the importance of adhering to traffic rules and enforcement
  • Design a reliable framework for regular collection and reporting of road traffic crash data
  • Develop a national strategy with measurable targets to reduce road fatalities and serious injuries
  • Refrain from relying solely on planned amendments to AARTO as a solution to road safety concerns
  • Engage with credible stakeholders in the transport space and civil society organisations to find solutions to road safety challenges
  • Develop a database that includes casualty figures, data on mobility, crashes, behaviours, attitudes, and enforcement to facilitate the interpretation of road safety trends

“OUTA firmly believes that all these measures are crucial components of a sustainable response to road safety. Anything less will continue to see this injustice to South Africans continue unabated,” concludes Van Heerden.

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