Easter road traffic deaths in 2009 decreased by 34 percent from 2008, Transport Minister Jeff Radebe said on Thursday.

Briefing the media in Pretoria on road crashes and fatalities, Radebe said there were 197 deaths in 2009 compared to 297 in 2008.

There had been a downward trend over the last five years.

“Despite the apparent increase in the national death rate between 2004 to 2007, there may still have been an underlying long term downward trend.”

Radebe said there had been eight major crashes in Easter 2008 resulting in the death of 45 people, while during 2009 13 people had died from two major accidents.

“The contributory factors to these major crashes tell us in no uncertain terms that the loss of lives in both cases was unnecessary and could have been avoided.

“The simple truth is that motorists endanger their own lives and that of innocent road users, they need to obey traffic rules.”

The major accidents occurred in Mpumalanga, killing five and injuring three, and the other in the Free state killing eight and injuring four.

Driver behaviour was one of the main contributing factors, with speed playing a role in 48 percent of the road deaths.

This was followed by jaywalking at 36 percent.

Unlawful and unsafe overtaking and hit and runs each accounted for six percent, U-turns were responsible for 2,4 percent of deaths, and intoxicated drivers played a part 1,6 percent of road deaths.

Radebe said the annual economic cost of road crashes in South Africa had been conservatively estimated at R56-billion .

“For most people this staggering figure has little impact or meaning mainly because costs are distributed across the community,” said Radebe.

The costs were divided among crash victims and their families, the health system and vehicle owners who pay insurance premiums.

“Whilst the aggregate economic costs and its major components are enormous and generally not well understood, the social, physical and emotional impact of road crashes are devastating for many individuals and their families.

“Is it not high time that road users ask themselves about their contribution to safety on our roads?” asked Radebe. – Sapa