Johannesburg: African countries need to tighten their road traffic enforcement laws or risk losing more lives in avoidable road crashes.
This was one of the issues that emerged at the two-day road safety conference, which ended in Johannesburg on Wednesday.
Several countries at the conference came under sharp criticism for an alleged failure to enforce laws that aim to curb road deaths. South African drivers were viewed to be among the worst culprits in terms of not wearing seatbelts and adhering to road safety laws.
Speaking to SAnews on the sidelines of the conference, Road Traffic Management Corporation acting CEO Collins Letsoalo said South Africans needed to understand that “killing people on the road” was murder.
“South Africans are not doing the simplest of things, like wearing a seatbelt and they don’t see it as a problem. It has been proven that if we can increase our seatbelt wearing rate to double what we have now, we would have a 30 percent reduction in road fatalities,” Letsoalo said.
On Tuesday, Letsoalo presented to conference delegates South Africa’s strategy to reduce road fatalities by 20 percent a year. He said in November, the strategy will be released for public comment.
He said other countries had done the simplest of things to reduce road accidents and that was to focus on drunk driving and seatbelt usage. Speeding, drunk driving, and failure to wear seatbelts and helmets remained a critical challenge for South African authorities.
Letsoalo said South Africa was losing between 280 and 350 people to road crashes every week. About 40 percent of those killed were pedestrians.
At present, 14 000 people a year died on South Africa’s roads, with accidents reportedly costing the economy R307 billion a year.
The issue of road safety could no longer be left to government authorities alone.
“We have reached that stage now where we are calling on society to work with us; it can’t be a government thing. People need to understand that if they behave this way and continue to do so, they are likely to lose their lives.”
He insisted that the laws were not lenient but enforcement was somehow lacking.
Communities, Letsoalo said, needed to understand that “today it can be me and you and tomorrow it will be somebody else.”
The recent decisions by the NPA to charge irresponsible drivers with murder instead of culpable homicide had been welcomed by some in society.
Musician Molemo ‘Jub Jub’ Maarohanye and co-accused Themba Tshabalala were last week found by the Protea Magistrates Court in Soweto guilty on four counts of murder and two of attempted murder.
The two were drag-racing in Protea North, Soweto, on 8 March 2010 when they crashed into a group of schoolchildren.
Cape Town taxi driver Jacob Humphreys was convicted of murder following an accident in which 10 children lost their lives at the Buttskop level crossing in Cape Town in August 2010.