Every year, 13 000 road fatalities occur on our road. It has been estimated that an additional 265 000 people are injured.
According to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), together these injuries cost the South African road network R142.95 billion every year. In comparison, the government spends R23.2 billion on job creation and labour affairs and R43.6 billion on public transport.
One of the most unfortunate victims of these crashes are children. The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital sees 1 000 children every year because of road injuries, and these are statistics from one hospital in Cape Town.
Often when these statistics are shared, the reporting around road crashes state that “accidents” occurred on our road. But are road crashes really “accidents”?
The challenge with using the word “accidents” when referring to road crashes is that the event appears inevitable and unavoidable. In other words, there was nothing that could have been done to prevent 265 000 people being injured on the road. Surely, in the world we live in, together with the advancement in science and technology, that is not possible.
On November 17 of every year, the world remembers road crash victims, and it is very important for all of us to note that road crashes are preventable. In fact, it is possible to reach a point where no person and no child is hurt on our road, or at least not seriously or fatally injured in a way that disables them for life or impacts their family and friends with their tragic loss.
We all know that humans make mistakes and will also make them on the road. But how can we make sure that the mistake on the road does not lead to tragic losses and injuries?
ChildSafe, a child safety NGO in Cape Town, aimed to determine these prevention methods in 2018. It was found that one of the ways to prevent road injuries was to reduce speed in areas where children play and live, either around school or at home. Currently, speed limits in these areas are 60 km/* and it has been found that if a child is hit with a car at that speed, the chance of death is 90%.
The evidence shows that a lower speed limit of 30km/* is more suitable for areas where children are and reduces the chance of death by 90% in the event of a crash. The reality of this is that driving at that speed may be a little bit inconvenient.
But it is important to ask ourselves, is this inconvenience worth a child’s life? No, it isn’t.
However, a speed limit will only go as far as developing a law, we also need our society to follow this law so that our roads are safer for children.
ChildSafe also found that another way to prevent child road injuries is to use the appropriate SABS child restraint for children. South African law requires children under the age of 3 to be restrained in a child restraint and those 3 years and older to use a seatbelt instead.
However, we can only expect our children to be restrained properly if we restrain them as the adults in their lives. And if we model safe behaviour by using seatbelts as well.
There is a common misconception in our society that using a seatbelt is not good when a road crash happens. The reality is that a seatbelt prevents any driver or passenger from being ejected from a car when a crash happens, preventing a serious head injury or even death.
We only get one chance to life, it is important that we remember this when we are driven or drive others.
Traffic departments are clamping down on speeding and driving while drunk and these strategies may be seen as a way for the government to fine us or make money. But the reality is that these enforcement mediums have been created to make our roads safer and protect our people. If we prevent road crashes, we save R142.95 billion every year and this can only be done if we change.
Change is possible in reducing our speed and using the appropriate restraints for ourselves and our children.
Yolande Baker is the executive director of ChildSafe.