By Quinton de Villiers
South Africa needs to urgently adopt a radically different approach to road safety if it intends solving its high road mortality rate. It stands out as among the highest in the world, with more than 130 000 people having lost their lives in accidents over the past decade.
A sound starting point in developing an effective blueprint is to glean and adapt experiences from countries, such as Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, all considered to be among the world leaders in road safety.
They have broken traditional mind-sets by adopting models that surpass policies and law enforcement to also include innovation that tests the existing boundaries in transport and traffic engineering.
Just as much emphasis has also been placed on educational programmes at school level to instil a culture of road safety in their societies.
Notably, their approach to road safety incorporates the input of all stakeholders and encompasses many disciplines.
This includes critical insights of participants in the road-freight fraternity and its extensive supply-chain, such as truck manufacturers which can lay claim to being among the world’s leading innovators of safer transportation technologies.
With up to 80% of all freight moved by road in South Africa, reputable third-party logistics providers also have an important contribution to make towards developing a comprehensive road safety strategy for the country.
For example, Bridgewater Logistics continues to establish the benchmark in road transportation through its ongoing investment into safety.
Among these are its driver training programmes geared at sharpening defensive skills and capabilities within the company.
A dearth of skilled drivers in South Africa remains a serious concern as a significant contributor towards the many accidents involving commercial vehicles on the country’s roads.
Driver behaviour, attitude, negligence and fatigue have all contributed towards between 80% and 90% of South Africa’s road accidents.
One of the biggest challenges to adopting a more scientific approach to road safety is the absence of reliable information and statistics to plan effective interventions.
Bridgewater Logistics also believes that more needs to be done to better protect the most vulnerable of road users, namely pedestrians.
Pedestrians currently constitute about half of the total road mortalities in South Africa. Meanwhile, in other developing countries, pedestrian deaths range between 65% and 90%.
This can be attributed to non-existent side-walks, pedestrian crossing and/or fences, highly-trafficked “first world roads” that traverse dense “third world” settlements, as well as limited public transport systems.
Add to this poor visibility of pedestrians and the mushrooming of unplanned informal housing settlements. High levels of alcohol abuse in these communities have compounded the problem. Research has shown that 70% of adult pedestrians who are killed on South Africa’s roads intoxicated.
Worryingly, the country’s youth remain the most vulnerable of the pedestrian demographic as is demonstrated by the death of no less than three children under the age of 15 on South Africa’s roads every day.
Speeding, driving under the influence and disregard for signalling are still a major cause for concern on South Africa’s roads and adequately policing this lawlessness has been challenged by already-stretched resources.
There is a lot the country can learn from the new and creative road signage deployed in developed countries to change road behaviour.
A sound example is a three-dimensional pedestrian crossing that forces drivers to deaccelerate once they see the seemingly floating “zebra stripes”. This creative approach also ensures that children use it to cross busy roads.
Encouragingly, South African roads authorities have also expressed a keen interest in the system, while another has been implemented across the country’s borders in Mozambique on Maputo’s Praça dos Trabalhadores by the United Nations Program for Human Settlements and Architects Without Borders.
Major strides have also been made into researching and developing new materials to manufacture road signage that even collapse on impact and significantly safer road barriers, another area that requires urgent attention in South Africa.
Bridgewater Logistics stands committed to working with all stakeholders in helping to create safer roads, the lifeblood of South Africa’s economy.