Cape Town – Transport Minister Dipuo Peters on Wednesday hit out at the “flagrant disregard of the law and reckless usage of roads” as traffic authorities announced that almost 300 people had died during the Easter period.
In a speech focussing on the 2015 Easter Road Safety campaign, Peters expressed her “disquiet and disappointment at the high rate of crashes and fatalities experienced during this Easter weekend”, saying the gloomy picture could not be left unchallenged.
“The total crashes for the period under review is 208 resulting in 287 fatalities as opposed to the previous year during the same period when we had 148 crashes resulting in 193 fatalities,” Peters said.
“These are heads of families, breadwinners and people whose potential could have been used to build our economy and move South Africa forward. Surely by any standard and imagination, we just cannot accept this behaviour on our roads. Our roads cannot be death traps. It is the intransigent human conduct that is responsible for mowing our people to death.
“Very disturbingly and inducing a sense of shock are the current trends amplifying flagrant disregard of the law and reckless usage of our roads.
“This phenomenon is underpinned by the fact that 48 percent of our fatalities comprised of passengers, 28 percent being drivers and 20 percent accounts for pedestrians while two percent are cyclists another two percent is unknown.”
Peters said the country had approached the Easter weekend with a high level of consciousness following the crash that claimed the life of Public Service and Administration Minister Collins Chabane and two of his bodyguards last month.
She said the road traffic safety fraternity had been out in full force during this period which she described as “one of the most challenging, one characterised by the fact that it coincided with the end of the month, school holidays and various pilgrimages”.
She also cited the significant impact changes in travel patterns had brought, with many motorists now opting to travel after dusk “which on its own brings about risks of fatigue”. Other risk factors included speeding, unroadworthy vehicles and drunken driving.
“These carnages and unwarranted misery brought about by irresponsible and lackadaisical behaviour can and should be avoided. We can no longer afford to bring this untold misery and suffering to innocent families, we can no longer afford to be a nation of orphans, widows and widowers,” Peters said. “We can no longer afford to bring this untold strain to our economy, health and social services. Indeed we cannot be at peace with ourselves when we fail to take responsibility and unanimously declare Enough is Enough.”
Willis Mchunu, KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Transport and Community Safety, said: “We are very concerned that the comparison of crashes and fatalities between this Easter weekend and last year’s ones indicates an increase, despite the heaviest law enforcement presence on our roads.”
Fatalities in KZN increased from 14 in 2014 to 27 this year.
Over the Easter weekend, authorities in the province stopped more than 22 000 cars and 4 678 transgressions were recorded, including 400 people charged with driving without a valid driver’s licence.
“The majority of these people do not have drivers licences,” Mchunu said. “They therefore don’t even know the rules of the road, rendering them susceptible to not even know what to respect.”
The Western Cape’s preliminary report showed 27 fatalities, 13 of which were pedestrians.
During the province’s safety campaign, dubbed Operation “ZERO”, 53 arrests were made for driving under the influence, 235 speeding offences were recorded, and 254 fines for traffic violations were issued.
“We are grateful to have not had a major crash during this past Easter weekend. Our ZERO enforcement plan was focussed on our major routes with high traffic volumes, yielding some positive results,” said MEC for Transport and Public Works, Donald Grant.
“Of serious concern, however, is the high number of pedestrians that are being knocked down across the province. This class of fatality will require further attention moving forward, as we review the efficacy of our combined efforts”.
Peters said the official vehicle population had grown this year and this has translated into an added burden on the road infrastructure network and law enforcement capacity.
In December 2013, there were 11 006 184 vehicles throughout the country. By December 2014, this number had grown by 363 741 to reach 11 369 925 registered vehicles. More than half (52%) of these vehicles were in Gauteng (38.76%) and KwaZulu Natal (13.47%).
The number of driver’s licenses issued had also increased from 10 645 046 to 11 148 372, meaning that 503 326 new drivers had recently been licensed to use the country’s road networks she said.
She reported that over Easter the heaviest traffic volumes had been recorded along major arterial routes leading out of Gauteng, with the N1 north to Limpopo and south to the Free State, the N3 to KwaZulu Natal and N4 towards Mpumalanga, among the busiest.
“The volume picked up from 9am with an average of 2 200 vehicles per hour passing through the tollgates on Thursday as the long weekend started. The highest volume of 3 387 was recorded between 2-3pm at Pumulani toll plaza towards Limpopo.
“At the end of the weekend on Monday the highest volume was recorded in Pumulani plaza where 4494 vehicles passed through the plaza between 10-11am.”
Statistics compiled by the department of transport found that 37% of crashes occurred between 6pm and midnight, while 25% occurred between midday and 6pm.
She vowed to step up efforts to curb the death toll of the country’s roads, saying her department would work to root out corruption at Driver Learner Testing Centres as well as in the law enforcement fraternity.
“Stringent and robust measures will be put in place to stop these carnages,” she added.
By LINDIZ VAN ZILLA AND CARLA BERNARDO