While trawling the Internet we stumbled across a though provoking article on a New Zealand website. That country is up in arms over the number of young people dying on its roads. Addressing a Motor Trades Association meeting, Transport Minister Steven Joyce said the 15 to 24 age category was “seriously over-represented” in crash and fatality statistics. “Young Australians have a road fatality rate of 13 per 100,000 of population, while young New Zealanders have a fatality rate of 21 per 100,000 of population,” he said. In 2008 young drivers involved in motor accidents caused 122 deaths and 800 serious injuries!
He immediately outlined some of the proposals to improve these statistics. The first step would be to raise the minimum driving age from 15 (currently the youngest in the world) to 16 or 17. He also proposed increasing the learner licence period from six months to a full year. Joyce also proposed tougher restricted licence tests, up to 120 hours of driving practice before licenses are issued and other measures. He suggested zero alcohol limits and for young drivers, and barring them from driving high-powered vehicles.
Chalk and cheese
What’s all the fuss about? We spent a few minutes researching New Zealand’s road accident statistics at http://www.transport.govt.nz/. Comparing their statistics to South Africa’s is like chalk and cheese. The combined road accident death tally for the five years spanning 2004 to 2008 is 2,020. Road accidents deaths for the current year (updated to 17 November 2009) stand at 338. The quality of their data is fantastic. Road accident deaths are sorted into categories to include drivers, passengers, motor cycle riders, motor cycle pillions, pedestrians and pedal cyclists. Casualties are also divided into age groups! But the best part is that statistics are up to date to mid-November 2009
We compared these statistics to those available on South Africa’s Arrive Alive website. The best we could manage was a copy of the Road Management Corporation’s Road Traffic Report March 2008. They record 11 577 fatal crashes in the period 1 April 2007 to 31 March 2008. These accidents caused 14 627 road accident fatalities at a conservative ‘cost to country’ of some R13.270bn! And our road fatality rate per 100,000 of population (assuming 48.2m South African citizens) is 30 plus!
Why are there so many deaths on South Africa’s roads? We found a number of contributing factors tucked away in the pages of the report. The report reveals an estimated 480 682 unlicensed vehicles on the country’s roads. To make matters worse, they say as many as 376 876 of the vehicles on our roads are considered un-roadworthy. These are ridiculous numbers if we consider the total vehicle population of 9.182m vehicles. South Africa also struggles with an ever-increasing number of ‘new’ drivers. In the period under review a record 1.130m learner licenses were issued against only 306 602 new drivers’ licenses. The total number of licensed drivers at the end of March 2008 stood at 8.205m across all license categories.
How do we fix the problem?
The first step is to admit that a problem exists. We’ve taken this step already. South Africa has run a high-visibility Arrive Alive campaign over the busy periods (particularly Easter) for a number of years, though with limited success. Although the Road Traffic Report March 2008 applauds a decrease in road fatality trends over the past 20-months they admit this occurred against a backdrop of increasing lawlessness. They lament the increase in “un-roadworthy and un-licensed vehicles; as well as high numbers of expired driving licences recorded over the 12-month reporting period.”
So clearly the next step is to polish up on the enforcement aspect. We cannot be serious about road accident fatalities unless we clamp down on ‘illegal’ vehicles and drivers. We should see less un-licensed and un-roadworthy vehicles on our roads each year rather than more. We should also take a page from the New Zealand traffic authorities and target the problem areas revealed by the statistics. South Africa also reports road fatalities by age group, though the incidence among younger drivers is not as pronounced as in the New Zealand data…
We need to take a closer look at where our road accident deaths occur. The red flag is almost immediately visible. More than 30% of the country’s 14 627 road accident deaths are categorised as pedestrian or ‘hit and run’ incidents. Driver education is important – but the Department of Transport needs to do more to prevent pedestrian deaths. If that’s a third of the problem then simply tackling road traffic laws won’t be enough.
Editor’s thoughts: The short-term insurance industry is particularly concerned with the high number of accidents and fatalities on South Africa’s roads. And they’re ready to do their part to improve the situation. How would you suggest short-term insurers get more involved in reducing vehicle accidents? Add your comments below, or send them to firstname.lastname@example.org