Ways to reduce accident rate are being ignored

Latest figures show deaths are much more likely to occur in certain provinces

Unsafe conditions: Multiple vehicles involved in an accident on the N2 just outside Gonubie in the Eastern Cape. In 2015, the cost of road accidents equalled 3.4% of GDP. Picture: DAILY DISPATCH

Last week, the Road Traffic Management Corporation produced its annual report for 2016. It was a shocker; 14,071 people died on our roads, 1,127 more than in 2015.

The report was a mine of information on the causes of accidents, the times of day they occurred, the days of the week and how women were much safer drivers than men, but it failed to notice the most alarming factor and the one that cries out for immediate attention.

In two different bar charts, far apart in the 61-page report, the Road Traffic Management Corporation provides the total number of vehicles registered in each province and it gives us the number of fatal crashes in each province.

When the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry put the information together, the elephant in the room emerged large and threatening.

Some explanation is necessary. If, say, a province has 20% of the country’s vehicles on its roads, it would be reasonable to expect that it would have a matching fatal accident rate of about 20%.

Wrong. The accident rates in the provinces vary widely. For instance, 38.56% of the country’s registered vehicles are in Gauteng, but only 20.4% of the fatal crashes. That means there are 47% fewer fatal accidents than one would expect. The picture for the Western Cape is similar.

Dark roads a safety hazard

But in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, we are looking at disaster. In the Eastern Cape, the fatal accident rate is 81.8% higher than the average rate for the country and in KwaZulu-Natal it is 51.7% higher.

Compare this with the Western Cape, where the number of fatal crashes is 43.2% below average and, as mentioned, Gauteng is 47% below average. Obviously, Gauteng and the Western Cape are doing something right and KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape have got it dreadfully wrong.

How does one explain the difference? The usual suspects such as drunk driving don’t provide answers because one would expect the effect to be evenly spread across all provinces. There is nothing, for instance, to indicate that people in the Eastern Cape drink more than those in the Western Cape.

The most likely explanation is that the standard of driving in Gauteng and the Western Cape is much higher than in the Eastern Cape or KwaZulu-Natal.

One explanation is the enforcement of the rules of the road and the visibility of patrol cars and traffic officers.

A more telling explanation, however, is the testing of drivers and the issuing of licences by municipalities. The AA has long complained about the high percentage of fake or “bought” driving licences in use. The figures quoted above seem to suggest that a very high percentage of these fraudulent licences are to be found in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

Another province with an obvious problem is Limpopo, where the fatal crash rate is nearly double the average for the country. The municipalities that issue fraudulent driving licences are responsible for hundreds if not thousands of deaths a year.

The one thing the chamber cannot explain is the silence of the short-term insurance industry. It has a vital interest in road safety and it surely understands that better driving will mean fewer claims to settle.

But where is the voice of the short-term insurers? Why are they not speaking out about the problem, sending delegations to provincial premiers, demanding better enforcement and more visible policing? Perhaps they are doing something, but the situation demands shouts of outrage, not whispers.

What could insurers do? There is enough evidence in the report to justify higher car insurance premiums in KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo and reduced premiums for drivers in Gauteng and the Western Cape.

That would certainly provoke the right kind of reaction and put pressure on the erring provinces and slack municipalities. And motorists in Gauteng and the Western Cape should be demanding a better deal from their insurers.

Programmes should be developed to encourage drivers to seek additional qualifications. It would be in their interest to support motoring organisations and subsidise advanced driving courses. If some are doing this, they should shout about it.

We know insurers analyse the information on crashes and adjust premiums according to their findings. Women pay lower premiums and the young pay more, but why haven’t they noticed the huge differences in accident and fatal crash rates in the different provinces? There is one more thing we would also like the industry to do and that is campaign to take the job of testing and licensing drivers away from the municipalities, many of which are clearly doing a rotten job.

The project should be overseen by a panel from the motoring organisations and the insurers, which have a vested interest in a low accident rate. Any testing centre that failed to maintain the necessary standards would lose its franchise.

What would we do with the municipal officials who become surplus to requirements?

Reassign them to enforcement, especially at weekends and at night when most of the accidents take place.

  • Myburgh is president of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry.


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