Apart from the tragic cost to lives‚ South Africa's high accident rate has an economic cost estimated by Transport Minister Ben Martins at R306bn a year - about 10% of gross domestic product (GDP).
In other developing countries that keep records of vehicle accidents‚ the impact on GDP is about 2%.
The Automobile Association (AA) uses a different methodology to arrive at a cost of R157.7bn for 2010-11 (about 5% of GDP)‚ which South Africa‚ with its pressing social needs‚ can ill afford‚ AA public affairs head Gary Ronald said last week. The sum included the costs of emergency services‚ hospital care‚ loss of earnings‚ future claims against the Road Accident Fund (RAF) and care for the disabled.
The AA believed the accident rate could be reduced dramatically if the government allocated significantly more funds to road safety publicity campaigns. It also bemoaned the lack of a cohesive strategy in all spheres of government towards road safety.
Democratic Alliance deputy transport spokesman Greg Krumbock estimated the cost of accidents to the economy to the end of March this year at R193bn.
He also called for a "major shift" in the approach to road safety‚ which he said required "sustained‚ comprehensive road safety campaigns to be implemented at all levels of government".
Martins announced at a media briefing in Durban on last week that an estimated 1‚465 people died in 1‚221 fatal accidents between December 1 and January 8.
About 40% of the deaths involved pedestrians‚ most of whom had walked onto roads while drunk.
Annual accident fatalities are in the region of 11‚000 people‚ with 10‚837 deaths recorded in 2010 and 11‚228 in 2011. Also‚ the RAF estimated that 279‚080 people were injured in accidents in the year to end-March 2012.
Martins said the annual cost to the economy was at least R306bn‚ which included increases in the social development and health budgets.
Road Management Traffic Corporation acting chief executive Collins Letsoalo said R180bn of this was due to alcohol-related crashes.
Investment Solutions chief strategist Chris Hart said accidents not only represented a loss of skills and productivity‚ but destroyed the economic value the victims could produce throughout their working lives‚ and their "balance sheet worth".
There were also the medical costs and the loss of earnings to consider‚ he said.
Martins said the Department of Transport would continue to implement campaigns to halve road deaths by 2020. The alcohol limit would be reviewed and the government would support a total ban on alcohol advertising and harsher measures for serial drunk driving offenders‚ including naming and shaming them.
More stringent criteria for driver licence tests‚ including a probationary period for applicants‚ would be considered.
South Africans Against Drunk Driving director Caro Smit said that the number of arrests for drunk driving was so low it was "ridiculous".