SA’s juggernauts of death will just keep on trucking

William Saunderson-Meyer says that 25.1 people per 100 000 die on our roads every year


Truck owners have been warned that they will compelled to take personal responsibility for road accident carnage that their employees cause. The warning, from an activist organisation, was triggered by a spate of truck related disasters over the past month. 

A truck and bus accident in Mpumalanga took the lives of 18 people. Near East London, four were killed in a head-on truck collision. In Durban, two died when a car drove into a broken down truck. On the N8 outside Bloemfontein, six were killed and 50 injured when bus rear-ended another broken down truck.

Our road accident statistics, in general, are appalling, with transport-related injuries among the 10 biggest causes of death in South Africa. In 2015, road accidents cost an estimated R143bn, about 3.4% of GDP, with 70% of that being the cost of human casualties.

In 2016, just over 14,000 people died on the roads. As a rule of thumb, one can multiply the mortality statistic by five to estimate the serious injuries, and by 15 for minor injuries.

In Australia, which once had worse statistics than SA, 5.3 people per 100,000 of population die on the roads each year. In Europe, that is 9.3. In Africa, with some of the worst road s in the world, it is 26.6. In South Africa, with the best roads in Africa, it is 25.1

According to the World Health Organisation in 2015, SA had the highest prevalence of road deaths associated with drunk driving. Johannesburg, according to the World Resources Institute, is the 13th most likely place in the world to die on the road.

The demand that truck owners start taking responsibility for accidents involving their employees and vehicles, comes from the SA National Civic Organisation (SANCO). It speaks with the self-assured authority of so many of these African National Congress-supporting entities, apparently confident that government will act upon their bidding. 

SANCO’s call is a righteous one. The trucking moguls have long sacrificed road safety in order to maximise profits.

Yet one doubts that these truck owners are quaking in their boots. Like so many of the alphabet soup of entities that coast in the slipstream of the ANC, SANCO’s power is illusionary. 

SANCO, noticeably, is also schtum about the road havoc caused by the minibus taxi industry. An Automobile Association study found that there are 70 000 minibus taxi crashes a year, which is double the rate of crashes for all other passenger vehicles. 

But the taxi owners have government utterly cowed and sitting up for treats. When you already have the organ grinder, the ANC administration, in your pocket, why fret over the antics of SANCO, the performing pet? 

Despite the handwringing about SA’s grisly road accident toll, the government lacks the courage to take on the trucker and minibus taxi mafias. For these two groups are the prime shapers of the problem.

All the many identifiable direct causes of road deaths – alcohol and drug use, driver fatigue, speeding, unroadworthy vehicles, unlicensed drivers, and dangerous driving – have their genesis in a lack of law enforcement. And that lack of enforcement, in turn, has its origin in the ANC pandering to those two powerful special interest constituencies.

There is no point in traffic officers fining minibus taxi drivers and independent truckers when the owners of the vehicles can, with impunity, refuse to pay. There is no room for honest road traffic enforcement when corruption is not only rife, but there is no effort to curb it.

The head of the Gauteng roads and transport department last year told a parliamentary oversight committee that the minibus taxi industry was completely “infiltrated and manipulated” by police officers who themselves own taxis. There was a “huge racket” in fake licences but, he admitted, there had not been a single arrest or prosecution.

Also, the government’s Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) is ineffectual beyond satire. With a budget of R659m in 2015, which it overspent by R180m, it is just another mechanism to extract money from the pockets of the taxpayer and move it into the pockets of deployed ANC cadres.

The RTMC last issued its “annual” report on accidents in 2011. Its most recent corporate annual report, 140 glossy pages costing millions, does not even identify cutting road accident deaths as a strategic objective. 

The RTMC is, however, meeting its strategic objectives on race transformation in the workplace. How pleased its political masters must be. Ordinary citizens, not so much.

If SANCO wants to cut truck accident deaths, it simply should demand that any lorry that breaks down on a public highway is seized and towed away for roadworthy checking. That repeat offences incur hefty fines. That truck and taxi speedsters are monitored by cameras in real time and pulled off to be fined or imprisoned.

If SANCO wants to stop licence fraud and ticketing corruption, it simply could demand that fake offenders, wearing audio-visual recording devices, are sent out to entrap crooked cops and roadworthy centre officials.

None of this is rocket science. It’s about caring enough about SA to seize the flailing Hydra of corruption, incompetence and government-blessed immunity that drives road deaths. It’s also not going to happen anytime soon.

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