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Law enforcement, not speed reduction, will reduce road carnage

South Africa's road accident deaths are among the highest in the world, with only undeveloped countries such as Eritrea, Angola, Ethiopia, The Gambia and war-torn countries like Iraq and Afghanistan registering higher figures.
Each year, the numbers escalate and a recent survey conducted by TNS South Africa, a leading marketing and social insights company, demonstrates conclusively that the problem is seen as critical by the public and in desperate need of solution.

Clutching at straws

Recent suggestions to reduce the speed limit to address road accidents is a sign that we are clutching at straws and that we are not being serious about tackling the real issues that contribute to our high road deaths. In saying this, by no means does one condone speeding. Our current speed limits, on the other hand, are safe and are not the issue here, and there are examples around the world that have proved that reducing the speed limits does not necessarily lead to a decrease in road fatalities.

Overwhelmingly, the South African public is calling for proactive measures to halt the upward spiralling carnage on our roads. The TNS survey shows that 81 percent of those polled believed that better law enforcement is by far the better response.

A holistic approach over a longer period

However, "better law enforcement" in this respect has many dimensions and that a holistic approach over a longer period is absolutely crucial in finding effective solutions. Every year we go through the same "road safety drive" talk shop by the various authorities and departments, and the end result is another year and holiday season of far too many road accidents and fatalities.

Tackle lawlessness on the roads with zero tolerance. This involves not only the general disregard for the rules of the road, which is especially prevalent among taxi drivers (and is now also being emulated by growing numbers of "non-taxi" motorists), but also matters such as unroadworthy vehicles, overloaded and unlicensed vehicles, unlicensed drivers and motorists under the influence of alcohol. All of these interventions require well-trained and non-corruptable manpower and resources.

Give them the teeth

The idea of the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) when it was set up many years ago, was a good one, but, to date, it has never really achieved much. This team needs to be given the teeth and capacity required to standardise processes and get serious road traffic law enforcement back in place. Our authorities must stop turning a blind eye to the real violations that are, ultimately, causing the carnage on our roads.

Deal with the taxi industry. It is no secret that the worst offenders in South Africa are the taxi industry and it is time that officials did what they are being paid to do: govern. One is puzzled at the hesitation by law-enforcement departments to tackle this industry. Serious initiatives must be implemented to compel this industry to observe the law, improve driving skills and ensure that vehicles are roadworthy, not overloaded and that all drivers have permits and are licensed. We are pleased by statementsfrom SANTACO's Mvuyise Mente in December, 2011, to discuss and encourage their members to conduct road safety checks for taxis on long-distance routes. This is a good start, but needs to go much further with zero tolerance by SANTACO of their members who break the law and their blessing given to the authorities to stamp out this unruly behaviour.

It works in Brazil

There is a very similar taxi industry in Brazil, which functions with exemplary efficiency and observance of road regulations, and it is worth noting that Brazil, which has a population of over 200 million people (nearly four times our population), has a road traffic death rate per 100,000 vehicles of 70.9, which is almost two-thirds lower than ours at 209 fatalities per 100 000 vehicles per annum. Argentina has even better results. We could learn a lot from our South American colleagues.

Questions must be asked about the motivation of traffic fines. It is time to remove the police from behind the bushes and bridges, where they do nothing but find the lucrative spots for camera traps to generate revenue to swell the coffers of dysfunctional and inefficient metros and municipalities, and which does little to address road safety and reduce accidents. In the UK, some municipalities have outlawed camera trapping because it does not serve the purpose for which it is intended - safer driving. This should be challenged and explored in SA.

Root out corruption

Root out corruption from the driver and vehicle licensing and testing environments. For too many years now, we have been exposed to the gross irregularities and corrupt activities committed there, yet not enough is done to eradicate this behaviour by those public servants.

Remove unroadworthy vehicles from the road. The rules and procedures exist, i.e. warning to rectify the unroadworthiness, after which impound the vehicles and fine the owners heavily. Repeat offenders of the rules of the road should be given the heavy hand: vehicles confiscated and fine both the driver and the owner.

The deteriorating road conditions need urgent attention, which includes not only the road surfaces, but also signage and traffic lights. The recent mention of national fiscus funding for planned road infrastructure maintenance and upgrading on a national basis is very encouraging and we applaud the Minister of Transport for this initiative, which we trust will get underway rapidly in 2012.

We trust that 2012 will be a year of making hard decisions and action to halt the ongoing undermining of law and order on our roads. We also call on all spheres of business, the legal fraternity, insurance companies and the wider public to stand together to demand that effective plans be implemented to resolve the situation. This way we will be able to reduce the growing number of needless deaths, which has become a bane and disgrace to the state of this country.

About Wayne Duvenage

Wayne Duvenage is the chief executive of Avis.