I read with great sadness the statistics for human-road-fatalities over the recent holiday season. The current toll stands at just over 1,465, and despite a handful of initiatives to improve road safety during the festive season, the road toll continues to rise.
About 14,000 people die on South African roads each year. When it comes to legislation to prevent road deaths, South Africa checks all the right boxes, but often falls short on implementation.
The World Health Organisation profiled the country’s road safety status and found that South Africa had legislation in place for everything from speed limits and blood alcohol limits to seatbelt and helmet laws. However, on a scale of zero to 10, it scored an average of three for enforcement in all categories.
Gary Ronald, a spokesperson for the Automobile Association of South Africa (AA), says “one of the problems in tackling the road death crisis is that there is no overreaching road safety policy. Over 1,000 people die on South African roads every month. This is despite South Africa’s commitment to the UN’s Decade of Action for Road Safety, the National Road Safety Strategy and Action Plan, the National Rolling Enforcement Plan and a 10-year road crime crash combating strategy for the Make Roads Safe campaign.”
“We need to move away from just looking at speed prosecution. Having guys on the road patrolling, visible, with their lights on in traffic, stopping people doing stupid things, educating people and having a one on one conversation on the roadside, without asking for lunch money or a coke,” said Ronald.
According to the AA, between March 2010 to April 2011 the cost of all crashes was R157.7-billion. This includes fatalities, injuries, damage to the economy, emergency services, insurance claims and payments from the Road Accident Fund for medical claims and future loss of earnings. Police have been stopping and checking a million cars and drivers a month since late 2010. Last year, the Road Accident Fund finalised about 149,467 claims and paid out over R12-billion to claimants.
Ashref Ismail, spokesperson for the Road Traffic Management Corporation, said the three key contributors to South Africa’s high number of road deaths include driving at speeds that are too high for circumstances, drinking and driving as well as drinking and walking, and dangerous overtaking – such as overtaking on barrier lines or overtaking in the face of oncoming vehicles.
And then we have one of our Olympian sporting greats, Burry Stander, who shares the same fate as the 1,465 people already killed on the roads this season. Burry Stander becomes a statistic within a statistic as we ask the question, how many other cyclists belong to this number?
Our thoughts and condolences go out to all the families who have lost someone on the roads over the holiday season.
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This raises the whole question of how can we conserve our country’s wildlife on the roads when South African human-road-fatality statistics are among the highest in the world?
Roads are integral to the financial development and prosperity of the local and national economy in South Africa and there is a potential conflict between development and conservation. South Africa needs infrastructure and road building cannot be prevented. South Africa is estimated to have the world’s fifth-largest mining sector in terms of GDP value (accounting for 18%) with reserves of an estimated worth of R21 trillion.
Mining accounts for 50% of transportation volume in South Africa. In addition, tourism is an important revenue earner for the country, currently accounting for 7.9% of GDP. With expectations that will generate an annual contribution of R58 billion by 2020, the country’s transport network will be placed under increasing pressure to meet these demands. Furthermore, the South African population is estimated at 51 million people, and with a positive economic growth of 4%, pressure is anticipated on all modes of transport (Statistics South Africa 2012).
Much data for human-road-casualties are available in South Africa with wildlife often viewed as a contributor to traffic accidents as opposed to roads being a threat to wildlife. Of the 11,577 fatal road accidents in 2008 (RTMC 2008), wildlife-vehicle collision did not rate as a category for describing the type of collision, but came under the heading of “other” or “unknown”, of which 714 could have been due to animal-vehicle collision. Around R1 billion is spent each year on accident insurance claims in South Africa, with R794 million devoted to possible wildlife-vehicle collisions. Whilst these claims compensate vehicle owners, there is no benefit from these claims to ameliorating the negative impacts on animals.
There is therefore little known about the impacts of roads on South African wildlife. South Africa is the third most biologically diverse country on Earth (IUCN Red List 2012) with populations of many vertebrate species coming under increasing pressure from human development. The demand for quick, resourceful methods of recognising the latent threat caused by roads is becoming more urgent. Through highlighting the threat of roadkill on biodiversity, the public should be encouraged to take the death of an animal killed on theroad as seriously as one would a human being.