Each year the number of road deaths and disabilities due to road accidents rises. Strangely, this is most marked in Africa where vehicle sales are the lowest in the world, says recent research by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).

A number of factors have been identified by the council for the high death toll on the continent in a new study. These include driver and pedestrian negligence, poor road quality, alcohol abuse, unlicensed drivers and overworked commercial vehicle and truck drivers.

SA is no different. The most recent road accident death toll figures taken from the beginning of this month show that there have been 623 deaths.

Leading the provinces with 125 deaths is KwaZulu-Natal, followed by Gauteng with 98, Limpopo 94, Mpumalanga 86, Free State 63, Eastern Cape 56, North West 42, Western Cape 41 and Northern Cape 18.

Passengers and pedestrians accounted for 437 deaths and drivers for 186 fatalities.

These figures are down compared to the same period last year when 1144 people died, but the transport department’s road traffic management spokesman, Collen Msibi, warned that this was no reason for complacency.

Negligent driving and fatigue were still the major causes of road accidents, with motorists still leaving the planning of trips to the last minute, Msibi said.

“They tend to give their bodies little rest, drive at abnormal speed, overload their vehicles and overtake recklessly, and drink alcohol while driving.”

Jaywalking pedestrians also contributed to the high number of road deaths, he said.

A new HSRC study called The Road “Kill” Factor shows that each year, the number of deaths and disabilities in Africa due to road accidents rises.

The study shows that buses, minibuses and trucks are “doubly at risk” of being involved in road carnage.

Prof Karl Peltzer, director of social aspects of HIV/ AIDS and health at the HSRC, says pedestrians and passengers are most frequently injured in Africa in accidents.

“According to the South African department of transport, driver factors accounted for between 80% and 90% (of accidents), and road environment factors between 5% and 15% in 2001,” Peltzer said.

He said alcohol and drug use accounted for almost 60% of fatally injured pedestrians, while 16, 5% of SA’s truck, bus and minibus taxi drivers were driving without driver s’ licences.

The study also says that commercial and public road transport drivers such as truck and bus drivers go to work exhausted. “Truck drivers in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands work on average 16 hours a day, falling asleep at the wheel, and have been involved in 24% of road accidents on South African roads,” the study says.

“South African taxi drivers showed largely fatalistic attitudes and express a high degree of risk-taking behaviour,” Peltzer said.

He believed there was a need for wider public education on aspects of road safety.

Fleet growth is a contributory factor, perhaps explaining the 400% increase in road deaths in Nigeria between the 1960s and 1980s.

  • Estimates are that in Africa, 59 000 people died in road traffic crashes in 1990, and this figure will be 144 000 by 2020, a 144% increase.
  • However, the same model predicts a 27% reduction in high-income countries.

Human error, including speeding, perilous overtaking, alcohol and drug abuse, driver distraction such as speaking on cell phones, poor driving standards;

  • Vehicle overloading and poor maintenance;
  • Bad roads and terrain; or
  • Pedestrian negligence

source: Professor Karl Peltzer, Human Science Research Council.