Young drivers account for 45 percent of fatalities on South African roads between 11pm and 6am and are 10 times more likely to have an accident at night, rising to 14 times more likely on weekend nights, insurance industry figures show.

According to Arrive Alive data, drivers aged between 16 and 19 are four times more likely than others to crash, speed, run red lights, make illegal turns, ride with an intoxicated driver and drive after using alcohol and drugs.

A World Health Organisation study released last year showed that road accidents are the leading cause of death among people under the age of 25, who accounted for 30 percent of road traffic deaths worldwide. The study, published at the global road safety week, stated that more than 1 000 young people died daily – mostly in Africa where more than 105 000 young people die in accidents yearly.
Traffic accidents, it said, were the main killer of people aged between 10 and 24, resulting in more than 400 000 deaths a year and leaving millions injured or disabled. This meant that more than 40 young people were killed in accidents worldwide each hour. The research also showed that young men were more vulnerable than females because they took more risks.

As thousands of young people prepare to attend matric dances and write their final exams in the coming months, paramedics and traffic authorities are preparing for the annual carnage that leaves parents devastated by the loss or maiming of a child.

On July 25 three Sasolburg teenagers, aged 18, 17 and 16, were killed and four others aged between 16 and 18 injured in an accident at the R59 crossing outside the town. They were en route from a party in Sasolburg to Vanderbijlpark when the 18-year-old-driver allegedly turned in front of an oncoming truck in the car he had taken from his parents without permission.

Early the following morning, two teenagers were killed when the driver lost control of the car while they were trying to speed away from police in Amanzimtoti. The driver, 17, and his passenger, 18, had just left a night club and were to be pulled over for driving erratically. The driver’s father had earlier reported to police that his car had been stolen by his son, who had taken it without permission. Four other people were injured in the accident.

The accident two weeks ago in which a 22-year-old was killed while driving a potential business partner’s Lamborghini in Johannesburg after a night out with friends prompted calls from road safety organisations to parents not to buy or lend their children fast cars.

Richard Benson of the Road Safety Action Campaign questioned why vehicles capable of travelling faster than the 120km/h speed limit were being sold in South Africa, and wanted the speed limit dropped to 110km/h.

Culpable homicide charges for accident deaths should be changed to murder, drunk drivers should be arrested, charged and processed by a night court so as to save taxpayers the cost of lengthy hearings, he said.

Benson suggested that the capacity of all cars be limited so that the speed limit could not be exceeded. That, he said, would not only save petrol, but also see insurance premiums reduced. He was consulting lawyers so he could take the government to court because of its lack of provision of safety and security to citizens because of the lack of traffic policing.

Arrive Alive’s contention that inexperience was the reason why young drivers were more likely to underestimate hazardous situations was supported not only by other road safety organisations, but also by insurance companies.

The department of transport said this week that road accidents cost the South African economy an estimated R581-billion between 1996 and 2006. In the 2007-08 financial year, the road traffic management corporation reported 14 627 road deaths in South Africa, while the previous national mortality surveillance system report showed that more than 11 000 children under 19 died from pedestrian, passenger and cycling injuries – an average of three children a day. The cost to the insurance industry was enormous.

Angelo Haggiyannes, the director of Auto & General Insurance, said: “Until you have five years or more driving experience under your belt, most insurers will regard you as a high risk.” That was why insurance premiums were higher for drivers under the age of 25.

“Premiums are calculated according to a sliding scale. Therefore, an 18-year-old driver will pay a high premium and additional excess charges. The premium loading reduces for each year that follows.”

Trevor Devitt of Outsurance said that, while the company did offer cover to young drivers, premiums were determined according to risk factors such as driving experience and their lifestyle. “Young people will always pay more than older drivers,” he said.

Refilwe Moletsane, the deputy executive officer of the South African Insurance Association, said age was one of the underwriting factors taken into consideration by insurance companies, but was certainly not the only one.

“Some members provide cover and may include as one of the policy conditions that there will be an additional excess payable if the vehicle was driven by a driver of a certain age,” she said. Also considered were the make and model of the vehicle being insured.

Mark Stokoe of Netcare 911 said that, when paramedics prepared for a weekend shift, they expected to treat young people. “They go out more and are buying more fast cars. Without a doubt, we will treat young people who have been in accidents on a Friday and Saturday night.” He said that at the end of the month it was always busier, and “we will sometimes go from one call to another in Gauteng”. His concern was the lack of proper policing.

He had found that most accidents happened between 4am and dawn.