With the 2012 “festive season” road death toll set to spiral to 1,600 or more by the time the count is officially stopped on 10 January 2013, South Africa is facing a record high in fatalities this season. It has also been stated by Collins Letsoalo of the RTMC that during this period, some 12,000 people have been injured and it must therefore be remembered is that these are PRELIMINARY figures, which will rise significantly within the 30 days after each crash as people die from their injuries.

On 23 December 2011, Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) welcomed the statement by the Department of Transport that a permanent CEO would be appointed “soon” to head up the Road Traffic Management Corporation. It’s now January 2013 and still, this has not happened and the RTMC remains a State Owned Company with no board of directors and no permanent leader, 35 months after the former CEO was suspended and subsequently sent on his way with an out of court settlement.

The dysfunctional state of the RTMC and its inability to coordinate law enforcement efforts has been acutely highlighted by the record high numbers of fatalities this “festive season”. It has also highlighted the acute lack of professional, visible traffic policing which would contribute greatly to making South Africa’s roads MUCH safer.

On Wednesday 2 January 2013 “Letsoalo denied that enforcement or punitive measures could be lacking, resulting in high levels of irresponsibility on the roads” in an interview with SABC 2. He went on to say “The issue can never be about the stringency of the law. We are doing everything in our power. The issue is that the South Africans must understand that the responsibility is theirs and everybody else’s.”

Yes, “everyone” must take responsibility for the carnage on our roads and “everyone” includes all road users, but it also includes the RTMC and law enforcement authorities.

The RTMC was established primarily to coordinate law enforcement and ensure road safety on South Africa’s roads and it has failed dismally in this task. The deep level of denial shown by the RTMC is further demonstrated by Ashref Ismail saying “Our plans are working, but it’s not acceptable that between 38 and 50 people die on the roads daily and during the festive season it is only 42 people a day”. What exactly does he mean “only 42 people a day”?!

Traffic authorities throughout South Africa, with the only possible exceptions of the Western Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal, have all but completely abandoned the principle of effective, visible policing – in the pursuit of financial gain from the prolific and ineffective use of speed cameras, with little or no moving violation enforcement.

The last full “Weekly Cumulative Festive Season Road Safety Report” emanating from the RTMC was for the period 1 to 25 December and included their “Enforcement Outcomes and Highlights”. There have been several other updates in the road fatalities since then, but these have not included the “Enforcement Outcomes and Highlights”.

Examination of the data contained in this report reveals just how seriously the RTMC and traffic officials are really taking their mandate and it’s hard to fathom just how they conclude that they have “done everything they can to reduce the carnage”.

There are reportedly some 17,000 traffic officers in South Africa and the RTMC seems to be of the opinion that the following cumulative arrests for serious road crimes up to Christmas day are quite simply, acceptable:

• 1,153 for driving under the influence of alcohol;
• 123 for excessive speeding;
• 32 for reckless or negligent driving;
• 78 for excessive overloading and
• 46 for fraudulent, false or non-existent driving licenses and documents.

We feel that it is important to put this into perspective and have broken these figured down to the work done by each traffic officer. The above figures would mean that each traffic officer managed, over a 25 day period, to arrest:

• 0.068 people for DUI;
• 0.007 people for excessive over speeding;
• 0.002 people for reckless or negligent driving;
• 0.005 people for overloading and
• 0.003 people for fraudulent, false or non-existent driving licenses and documents.

Granted; in the same period, some 361,102 (21 per traffic officer) vehicles were stopped and inspected and 97,789 (or 5 per traffic officer) infringement notices were given out, but one has to ask just how effective traffic policing has actually been and how seriously traffic officials are taking their mandate?

With all due respect, it is totally unacceptable that in the same period (1-25 December), 890 crashes which killed 1098 people occurred and 11 of the 18 major crashes investigated by the RTMC (61%) were head-on collisions. Head on collisions mostly occur as a result of dangerous and illegal overtaking.

Worldwide, it has been proven – both in research and in practical implementation that road users’ “voluntary” compliance with traffic laws is directly proportional to the chance of them being caught disobeying the law and being taken to task. Similarly, research has proven that the efficacy of anti-intoxicated driving programmes is directly proportional to the speed with which conviction and punishment occurs, not so much the severity of the punishment meted out. In general, intoxicated driving cases in South Africa take two years or more to reach finality.

It has been suggested that South Africa needs 100,000 more traffic police officers, but what is forgotten is that traffic officers do not have to investigate crimes like is the case with SAPS. According to SAPS, there are currently 156,489 police men and women in South Africa for a total population of around 55 million people.

There are approximately 10 million licensed drivers on our roads, so it stands to reason that fewer traffic officers should be able to police our roads effectively, especially since their task is merely to catch and testify against offenders.

We have been repeatedly told that South Africa only has 17,000 traffic officers, however; given that the JMPD has some 4,800, the EMPD 1,200 and the TMPD 1,800, (7,800 cumulative) are we supposed to believe that just under half or South Africa’s entire traffic officer contingency is based in these three Cities in Gauteng alone? If the answer to that question is “yes” then we need to be asking why there is such a concentration in such a small area of Gauteng, let alone South Africa and whether this is a sound strategy?

There are those who would argue that the reason for this is that Gauteng has the highest vehicle population, however it must be borne in mind that Gauteng has around one third of the country’s vehicle population, not half.

The entire traffic policing issue must be revisited and its methodologies seriously questioned. It is quite clear that camera enforcement and sporadic road blocks are not achieving much, given that camera speeding fines continue to grow in number and roadblocks produce very few real results, apart from creating long delays.

A much better way to utilise the resources available would be to deploy smaller groups of traffic officers over extended distances and to conduct checks and enforce moving violations. Simply using the phrase “zero tolerance” must be stopped and applying it must become the rule, rather than the exception. Threats rarely have any consequence on adjusting peoples’ behaviour and the odd example here and there after someone has killed scores of people being given a “harsh” sentence has little effect.

Justice Project South Africa hereby calls for a National Day of Mourning for all road fatality victims on Friday 11 January 2013 and for an urgent review of traffic policing to be undertaken by the Department of Transport and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. When we say “urgent”, we don’t mean “sometime in the future”, we mean NOW!

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