A recent global road-safety report found that South Africa has one of the 10 highest road-traffic fatality rates in the world – but the Eastern Cape is taking the lead in changing these chilling statistics.

The World Health Organisation recently released its first Global Status Report on Road Safety which indicated that about 1,2 million people died on the world’s roads every year and between 20 million and 50 million others were injured. More than 90% of the deaths occurred in low-income and middle-income countries, which had only 48% of the world’s registered vehicles.

Although there are many measures in place to reduce road- traffic deaths and injuries, nearly half of those killed each year around the world are classified as vulnerable road users – pedestrians, motorcyclists, cyclists and passengers in public transport. The report found this figure was even higher in the world’s poorer countries and communities. In South Africa, 39% of the people who die on the country’s roads are pedestrians, 2% are cyclists, 2% are riders of two or three wheelers (including motorbikes), 25% are drivers of four-wheelers (including motor vehicles) and 32% are passengers in four-wheelers.

Eastern Cape Transport Department spokesman Ncedo Kumbaca said the province was unique when it came to road safety. He explained that the province – comprised largely of rural areas where people rely on public transport – had its safety challenges. “These accidents are mainly caused by stray animals, pedestrians, unroadworthy vehicles and the behaviour of motorists.”

The global report is the first broad assessment of the status of road safety in 178 countries using data drawn from a standardised survey conducted last year.

Some of the other key findings were that in 2004 road traffic injuries were the ninth-biggest cause of death. By 2030 this is expected to climb four places, becoming a bigger cause of death than HIV/Aids.

About 62% of reported road traffic deaths occur in 10 countries – which in order of magnitude are India, China, US, the Russian Federation, Brazil, Iran, Mexico, Indonesia, South Africa and Egypt and account for 56% of the world’s population. While many countries have a basic legislative framework in place for road safety, only 47% have laws relating to all five of the key risk factors reviewed – speed, drink-driving, helmets, seat-belts and child restraints.

Enforcement of laws relating to these risk factors is perceived to be suboptimal in many countries.

South Africa’s enforcement of these risk factors was rated on a scale from one to 10, one being inadequate and 10 being excellent. On speed, drink-driving, and seatbelt and child restraint regulations, South Africa was only given ratings between two and three. Helmet regulations were the only factor that scored a six.

South Africa’s own road-traffic report for last year, released by the Road Traffic Management Corporation, indicated that the Eastern Cape was one of the best provinces when it came to road safety.

From April 1, 2007 to March 31 last year, the number of fatal crashes decreased by 6,84%, compared to provinces like Mpumalanga and Limpopo which showed an increase. Kumbaca said the reason for the decrease was that his department was busy implementing various initiatives to make roads in the province safer.

These included more grassroots-level campaigns to make pedestrians aware of the dangers of using public roads, especially after dark and while under the influence of alcohol. A task team had also been formed to ensure more visible law enforcement, especially at high-risk accident areas, as well as increased law enforcement for public transport drivers.

Kumbaca added that the department had also started campaigns to inspire public transport drivers to put passengers’ safety before “extra earnings” as well as encourage motorcyclists and cyclists to wear safety gear and reflective clothing. A task team was also established to control stray animals and address fencing issues.

“Road safety is everybody’s responsibility,” he said.