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On 29 November, if i could… Impumelelo research intern Kyle Heibert wrote wake up call to all South Africans, and especially drivers and the traffic department, calling for collective engagement on road safety.
Every year I record them in my diary and am shocked at the inability of the government to rein in the lawlessness on our roads. Accident rates around Christmas are worse than in any war zone, and if government wants to reduce the carnage, the numbers should be rubbed in our faces every day until drivers take responsibility.
In a cruel twist of fate, those caught up most in this vehicular mayhem tend to be the young and the poor. They live farther away from places of work and school, and travel along more dangerous and frenetic routes of transport.
Everywhere the poor are frequently crammed into overcrowded, uninsured and run-down vehicles spewing noxious emissions; hurtling over pot-holed roads navigated by drivers frantic to max-out customer quantity and turnover to compensate for the pittance they receive in wages.
With a wage structure dependent on the amount of trips a driver can make, there exists tacit endorsement of speed and numbers over safety. Such a lethal alchemy of variables has been compounded even further over the years as sprawling urbanisation and inflated car ownership has far outpaced proper city planning and infrastructure development. And yet, the greatest catalyst turning the roads into fast tracks to the mortuary is our own boorish driving behaviour, whether it be mindless speeding, blatant disregard for traffic rules or sloshing around drunk behind the wheel.
A World Bank report released this year classifies road fatalities as a noncommunicable disease in the same light as diabetes and obesity, and it predicts that by 2015 they will already have eclipsed AIDS and Malaria as the biggest killer of children between the ages of five and 15.
Not only that, but the growing body count is also leaving an indelible scar on the wider population and economy. Left behind in the wake of every motor vehicle injury or death is a household that has lost a potential breadwinner, or parents that may have to bury their child. From a more callous perspective, prolonged trends of increased mortality among workers and children curtail the growth of the labour force.
Those that can afford to pay their insurance and drive modern vehicles with enhanced safety features-like the behemoth SUV models that increasingly resemble domesticated versions of military-grade armoured personnel carriers ensure safety via technological superiority.
But for those that cannot, like the young and the poor, their anaemic incomes, geographical disadvantages and lack of options leave them dependent on uninsured and unroadworthy vehicles. By neglecting our own reckless driving behaviours on the roads and allowing individualised and financial-based decisions to become the normative way to determine personal responsibility, we risk letting collective engagement about our roads whither away until one day they may resemble a post-apocalyptic, everyone-for-themselves death race.
Government legislation, compensation and investment in infrastructure are failing to mitigate the intrinsic human factors. For that, we all need to take personal ownership and educate ourselves about the dangers and consequences of road safety. We depend on each other for our own safety.
(Impumelelo Researcher Kyle Hiebert with Columnist Rhoda Kadalie, reprint from The Citizen’s Rhoda Kadalie column, 29 November 2013)
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