Why we should stop blaming everybody else for poor road safety

Tackling SA’s dismal road-death record starts with the right attitude behind the wheel

18 April 2019 - 13:23 By Denis Droppa
SA has about 25,9 fatalities per 100,000 people, nearly three times that of Europe. Picture: SUPPLIED
SA has about 25,9 fatalities per 100,000 people, nearly three times that of Europe. Picture: SUPPLIED

The Easter holidays always make for grim news reading in terms of road safety.

SA has one of the poorest road safety records, and a report by the World Health Organisation stated we have about 25.9 fatalities per 100,000 people, compared with Europe at 9.3 per 100,000. Deaths on SA roads rose increased 14% during the last Easter holidays when 510 people were killed compared with 449 the previous year.

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Our default response to road death statistics is to blame the government for the carnage, and there is certainly a lot to be done, not the least of which is shifting its focus from income gathering to actual road safety.

It is less common for us to be self-reflective, and in our self-righteous finger pointing at what road-safety authorities are not doing or how dangerously minibus taxis are driven, we tend to overlook our own personal roles in helping making roads safer.

Addressing SA’s dismal road-death record starts with the right attitude behind the wheel.

For instance, do we always keep left and pass right when driving on the freeway, or do we daydream in the fast lane while frustrated motorists stack up behind us?

Do we always indicate when changing lanes, and check our blind spots?

Do we refrain from texting while driving, or from generally taking our attention off the road?

Do we overtake on solid white lines, or places where we can’t see oncoming traffic?

Do we always buckle up?

Do we always drive sober?

On the latter point, authorities have apparently toughened their stance on drunk driving, and the setting up of alcohol evidence centres (AECs) around the country is said to be a game changer in prosecuting drivers guilty of the offence.

In launching the Easter road safety campaign in Pietermaritzburg last week, transport minister Blade Nzimande said AECs will allow drunk-driving cases to be prosecuted much faster than before. Previously, blood results for alcohol tests took up to six months, which impacted negatively on conviction rates of suspects.

The AECs are a joint partnership between the national department of transport, its provincial counterpart and South African Breweries. They are equipped with all the necessary equipment to accurately and efficiently determine the breath-alcohol level of a person suspected of driving under the influence.

The key antidrunk driving weapon is the return of the controversial Dräger breathalyser. Its test results will again be admissible as evidence in court after use of the device was scrapped in 2011 by a Western Cape high court, when the judge dismissed a drunken driving charge due to problems with the Dräger test used to determine a man’s blood alcohol level.

A task team of experts addressed the court’s concerns and the Dräger will again be used to greatly speed up the process of nailing drunk drivers. Instead of the time-consuming practice of officers taking suspected drunk drivers to draw blood, which has since 2011 been the only evidence accepted by courts, drivers are now brought straight to an AEC for the Dräger test after an initial screening breathalyser test by the roadside.

Nzimande said he also wants to make drunk driving a more serious offence punishable by lengthier jail terms.  

A report by the World Health Organisation in 2015 found that SA has the highest prevalence of road deaths associated with alcohol abuse. It estimates that 58% of all collisions on our roads are attributed to alcohol, and Arrive Alive reports that half the people who die on our roads have a blood alcohol level above the legal 0.05 gram per 100mm limit.

Sometimes we get blinded by statistics and forget the terrible impact that road carnage has upon people’s lives.

Don’t drink and drive. Buckle up, and drive safely.