ONE DEATH IS ONE TOO MANY ( By Beatric Knopjes)

Published on 11th May 2015

Top priority for the South African Road Federation (SARF) is road safety. Innocent Jumo, president of SARF, and Basil Jonsson, operations director, explain how engineers and maintenance teams can contribute to making our roads safer.

THE LATEST ROAD safety reports show the staggering number of accidents on South African roads, and emphasise the importance of awareness, particularly among pedestrians. Pedestrians account for 40% of the deaths on South African roads. To minimise the risk of accidents, there are a number of factors that engineers can take into consideration when designing roads. Jumo explains, “First and foremost, the design aspects of all roads have to meet national road safety standards. Many accidents happen on road construction sites where there is not sufficient warning for people using the road or protection for those working on it. There may also be a lack of adequate signage warning motorists to decrease their speed before they encounter the work zone hazard. Motorists may also be impatient and fail to observe the reduced speed limit in the work zone. This is where enforcement becomes very important and traffic officials need to be more visible. “Engineering refers to the actual design of the road, based on years of empirical studies, where engineers need to make sure that the geometrics of the road are correct; e.g. if a curve needs to be placed in the road, it has to be of a certain radius for a specific required design speed.”

The sight distance of a road is also important. This refers to the distance of road a driver is able to see ahead, and affects the time the driver has to react to a hazard that may be on the road. The environment the road is in will play a fundamental role in determining its layout, as well as the accompanying ‘road furniture’ such as road signs, road markings and vehicle restraint systems (i.e. steel and concrete barriers as well as guard rails). Key peripheral infrastructure elements on a road, such as placing high-visibility signs in areas where inclement weather is commonplace, contribute to road safety. These elements are included on an individual basis according to the need of the particular stretch of road in question. These needs are determined by careful road investigation and by speaking to local inhabitants in the area to determine what trends need to be taken into consideration to make the road as safe as possible from an engineering point of view.

Says Jumo, “Sometimes we speak to the local inhabitants to determine if the area is prone to fog, mist or animals crossing at specific places, as these are aspects that must be taken into consideration when determining what safety measures need to be implemented on any given stretch of road.” There is no single system that can be applied to all roads. Each road has to be designed on its own merits, to determine, for example, what barriers need to be constructed next to the road. Jumo says, “There are vehicle restraint systems that become a hazard themselves if they are inappropriately used.” When a road has been designed and built, it needs to be subjected to a road safety audit to ensure that all safety elements have been included in the design process. Basil Jonsson, SARF operations director, explains, “What Sanral has implemented on all their road contracts is the appointing of an independent road safety auditor. This independent auditor – who must be a registered, professional geometric design engineer and/or traffic and transportation engineer – must have successfully completed an accredited road safety audit course, as well as been involved in a number of road safety audits within a period of two years. This auditor will serve as the team leader of the road safety audit team. As the South African Road Federation, we run a Sanral-approved road safety audit course, but we will not perform the audits ourselves as these must be done by an unbiased and independent external road safety audit team.” Jumo states that road safety audits minimise the risk and severity of road crashes that may be affected by the road project at the construction site or on adjacent roads. They minimise the need for remedial works after construction, reduce the whole life-cycle costs of the project and improve the awareness of safe design practices by everyone involved in the planning, design, construction and maintenance of roads. Road maintenance should also take the safety of the road users and construction workers into consideration, as many accidents happen near construction sites.

Legislation dictates where warning signs and delineators need to be placed in order to safely navigate road users around the hazard, and construction workers need to be vigilant of their safety and the safety of motorists at all times. While engineers designing roads can – and should – take considerable measures to minimise risks on the road, these are rendered insignificant by driver negligence and recklessness. Jumo and Jonsson stress the importance of education (in the form of road safety awareness campaigns and road safety included in school curriculums) and enforcement of the traffic rules of the road by traffic officials.

ROAD DEATH STATISTICS FOR DECEMBER 2014 FESTIVE SEASON

Of the festive season fatalities and incidents, 39% were passengers, 36% pedestrians, 24% drivers and 1% cyclists. As for gender, males contributed 75% to the road fatalities and crashes, while 22% were female. Based on the driver age group, those between the ages of 30 to 34 contributed 13% to the total fatalities. Those between 25 and 29 years old made up 12% of all fatalities, while 9% were between the ages of 35 and 39.

Below is a summary of other road deaths categories:

Passenger age group

  • 20 to 24 (6%)
  • 25 to 29 (8%)
  • 30 to 34 (7%)
  • Total 21%

Pedestrian age group

  • 20 to 24 (6%)
  • 25 to 29 (8%)
  • 30 to 34 (7%)
  • Total 21%

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