The most important method of tackling road deaths is to construct physical means of slowing traffic, according to an Indian traffic academic.

Professor Dinesh Mohan, co-ordinator of the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi, told delegates at the 27th annual South African Transport Conference that changing driver attitude would have little effect on road deaths.

“You cannot change someone’s attitude without changing the structure of the road.

“The most important means of reducing road deaths is to design roads to ensure the safety of people using non-motorised means of transport. Vehicle speed must be controlled by road design,” he said.

However, Semira Mohammed, of the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research, said in her paper presented at the conference that success in traffic enforcement was dependent on the ability to create a meaningful detection threat to road users.

She said that to achieve this, the primary focus should be on increasing surveillance levels to ensure that the perceived risk of apprehension was high.

“Once this has been achieved, increasing penalty severity and quick and efficient administration of punishment can further enhance the deterrent effect and ultimately contribute to alleviating the road safety crisis,” she said.

Mohammed said South Africa had a population of about 47-million people and according to figures from November 2007, a vehicle population of nine-million.

Of those, about 5,1-million were cars, 200 000 minibus taxis, 40 000 buses and 300 000 trucks and heavy vehicles.

“More than 18 000 people died, around 7 000 people were permanently disabled and 40 000 seriously injured on South African roads annually.

“International comparisons indicated that South Africa fell far outside the world’s best practices with a rate of 30,15 fatalities per 100 000 people,” she said.

According to her statistics, the United States was next on the list with 14,5 fatalities per 100 000 people.

“The ever-growing number of road traffic fatalities as a result of the high level of traffic violations demonstrates that the current system of law enforcement is proving insufficient and ineffective,” she said.

Last week transport minister Jeff Radebe launched the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences pilot scheme in Tshwane.

Mohammed said the objectives of the sceme were, among others, to encourage the payment of penalties imposed for infringements, to establish a procedure for the expeditious adjudication of infringements, with the purpose of encouraging compliance with the law.

She said according to the Road Traffic Management Corporation’s figures, about 95 percent of road traffic accidents happened as a result of one traffic offence or more.

On the other hand, Mohan said, there was no evidence to suggest that increased awareness of the dangers of the road or driver education reduced road deaths.

He said that after his own study in Durban, he had determined that motorists were more likely to die in their own vehicles than in an overloaded, unroadworthy taxi. “There is a focus on things that look bad. The most important issue is speed. If you can’t control speed you can’t stop deaths,” he said.

Mohan said wherever pedestrians came into contact with cars, speed should not be more than 50km/h because of the high probability of death if there was a collision.

“Near schools and homes the speeds should not exceed 40km/h. This can’t be done by means of law enforcement. There needs to be a physical means of slowing down the traffic,” he said.