The World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts that, in the next few years, unless drastic action is taken, road accidents will increase by 65% to become the fifth-leading cause of deaths in the world.
By this time, road accidents could account for more than 1.9-million deaths a year, from the current 1.3-million, explains WHO unintentional injury prevention division coordinator Dr Margie Peden.
The risks to those in disadvantaged societies are growing and, worldwide, vehicle ownership is forecast to double by 2020, with much of this growth in developing countries.
“It has been shown that, if we are able to stabi- lise the number of road traffic accidents or even reduce the numbers slightly, we will be able to save five-million lives, 50-million injuries and 5-billion dollars,” she explains.
One of the challenges is, of course, how to do this. The United Nations (UN) road safety collaboration has put together a global plan of action that will guide countries with respect to the basic principles of road safety, including the five pillars of safety that need to be addressed.
In May this year, the UN Decade of Action campaign was launched in South Africa to address these five pillars, which include road management, safer roads and road transport systems, safer vehicles, safer road users and improved postcrash care.
The campaign aims to reduce the number of road deaths and injuries by helping authorities commit to a decade of implementing better programmes and to improving education, enforcement, engineering and emergency responses.
“In the Decade of Action, we hope to engage all South Africans, to learn from other countries and create a global discussion on the impact of road traffic accidents in our society,” says Deputy Minister of Transport Jeremy Cronin.
Government’s implementing of safer roads and road transport systems includes promot- ing road maintenance and creating ways to fix potholes and poor signage, and to improve the enforcement of laws to prevent reckless road use.
The issue of safer vehicles is being tackled through government’s efforts to recapitalise public transport fleets.
Cronin says that 65% of public transport users are using mini buses as a primary source of transport, which has proved not to be the safest option.
“Campaigns, such as the Arrive Alive campaign, are used to publicise road safety and we also need to integrate road safety issues back into the schooling system, as well as re-evaluate the driving test and better regulate driving schools to teach new drivers more than just how to drive and rather how to navigate on South African roads,” he says.
The fifth pillar, improved postcrash care, is critical and efforts have been undertaken by government to transform the Road Accident Fund from a fault-based system into a road accident benefits scheme.
The scheme will be funded by the fuel levy and aims to reduce the use of lawyers in the process as much as possible.