STRONGER MESSAGE NEEDED: The Justice Project SA and the AASA believe more needs to be done to bring down road deaths in SA. Image: ER24
Cape Town - Transport Minister Dipuo Peters announced the national Easter road death fatalities on Tuesday (March 29) was down by 46% in 2016 compared to the same period in 2015.
The Minister said that preliminary figures indicate 156 people died on the country’s roads from Thursday March 24- 28 this year, compared to 287 fatalities from April 2 - 6 April 2015, meaning 131 fewer people died this year.
Reckless and drunk driving
According to the Minister, the major causes of road deaths this year were "pedestrians not walking safely and being struck by oncoming traffic, fatigue, inconsiderate and reckless driving, and drunk driving".
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The Automobile Association (AA) welcomes the drop in Easter road death fatalities announced by Minister Peters, but notes that the reduced figures may be a blip rather than a trend.
The AA said: “While these figures are encouraging, they remain shockingly high. We are concerned that they don’t present the full picture of what is happening on our country’s roads. In December we saw an alarming increase of 14% in road deaths over the December festive period compared to the previous year, and now, although from a smaller base, we see a drop of 46% in Easter road deaths."
Of concern, the Association said, was that regular, detailed, and reliable statistics are not available on a regular basis to document the trend in road fatalities, and their causes, over a period of time.
Holiday road deaths: Loss of lives in SA 'unacceptable'
The AA said: “This drop in Easter deaths may simply be an anomaly because, based on the figures release in January on the December festive season death toll, the trend was showing an increase, and not a decrease in road deaths. Data on the intervening months is lacking, as are statistics that show annual fatalities.
"In fact, annual statistics have not been released since 2011, which makes it extremely difficult to gauge the success or failure of road safety interventions."
Justice Project SA responds
While it is encouraging to note that this year’s Easter road death toll is down on 2015, it is important to note the Minister of Transport’s opening statements made with respect to the somewhat unique situation that prevailed this year, claims the Justice Project of South Africa.
JPSA chairman Howard Dembovsky said the public and school holidays naturally meant that traffic concentrations would have been significantly lower than they would ordinarily be over an Easter long-weekend.
Dembovsky said: "In addition, the fact that this Easter fell before the month-end on which many people receive their salaries would have also have had an influence."
Without detracting from the efforts made by dedicated law enforcement officials who were out in force over the Easter period, the JPSA reminds the public that the Human Rights Day long-weekend saw terrible carnage on South African roads.
'Defensive driving is key'
A seeming 46% reduction in road fatalities this Easter is no cause for celebration and it is most certainly no reason for motorists to let their guard down. Defensive driving is key to assuring one’s own and family’s safety on our roads.
JPSA also acknowledges the efforts of the RTMC’s anti-corruption unit in arresting two corrupt traffic officers over the Easter weekend. Eradicating corruption in both, law enforcement and vehicle and driver testing stations must be regarded as a priority, says the organisation, since without a concerted effort in tackling corruption – every other road safety strategy will achieve very little.
The arrest of 913 motorists for driving under the influence of alcohol and 502 for excessive speeding is cause for concern, particularly in light of the fact that convictions for DUI offences are and remain extremely low.
Dembovsky said: "The sooner that our authorities and government laboratories get their acts together and start convicting those charged with driving under the influence of alcohol (or drugs), the sooner a message will be sent that it is not alright to drive drunk.
"The notion of denying persons charged with these crimes bail is simply outrageous and is going to open up the floodgates for civil damages claims when people are acquitted or charges are withdrawn."
JPSA encourages the Minister to drop the ridiculous notion of imposing punishment on persons charged with crimes ahead of their conviction and implores her to pay attention to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa she has sworn to uphold.
Read the full JPSA response here.