South Africa was on the right track when it came to road safety, expert in the field Dr Pieter Venter said on Wednesday.

Venter was speaking on the fringes of the international road traffic safety management conference, which is being held in Cape Town.

He said it might appear that the country was not making a dent in its accident statistics – which include just over 14 000 deaths a year.

However there were a number of factors that influenced the figures, including the fact that the collection of statistics had improved tremendously in recent years, and the increase in the number of vehicles and drivers on the road.

The figures could be misleading, because on the ground, authorities were “much more prepared in all aspects than we have ever been before”.

There had been an increase in capacity of traffic law enforcers and road safety officials, and local authorities were more involved.

The Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) had developed into a fully-fledged lead agency, drawing on a wide range of input and expertise.

In addition, other agencies such as the South African National Roads Agency, and the private sector had come on board in a major way.

Central government, too, was “absolutely committed”.

“I think we are definitely on the right road,” he said.

Venter, an engineer by training, is co-ordinator for the Africa region of the Global Road Safety Partnership.

The partnership is an international initiative to bring together government and private sector organisations to address road safety issues in low and middle income countries.

He said three years ago, he would have had a long list of issues in the field of road safety that he would want done differently.

However things had changed so positively through the RTMC that there were very few things he would now take issue with.

“But I would make more funds for road safety awareness [available]. I think that’s something that’s lacking in our country,” he said.

Funding was in fact a general problem in road safety, and this was a difficulty not restricted to South Africa.

One of the partnership’s aims was to unlock private funding.

Venter said African transport ministers had in 2007 committed themselves to halving traffic injuries and fatalities by 2015.

This, he felt personally, was a “totally over-ambitious” target, and they would never get near that.

He himself was reluctant to set a particular goal for South Africa.

“What you must keep in mind, if you’ve set yourself the target to reduce it by 10 percent, in a certain period, to reduce it by 10 percent, you first have to stabilise it, because there’s this constant growth.

“And people forget about that, fighting against the natural increase you would have in the process.”

Sweden had set its target on zero incidents, but it already had one of the lowest accident rates in the world, something achieved over many years.

“We are a long, long way from that. We’re looking at decades. It’s a long-term thing; it’s not something that you turn around in a year.” – Sapa