JOHANNESBURG – When the Minister of Transport, Joe Maswanganyi announced the 2017 Easter road fatality statistics on Friday 21 April, reference was made to the dramatic peak in fatalities which occurred in 2015 in order to pad the blow of this year’s 235 immediate fatalities, and wherein it was claimed by the Minister that “this year’s fatalities are still significantly lower than the 333 fatalities recorded in 2015”.
On 8 April 2015, the former Transport Minister, Ms Dipuo Peters said “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”.
Just where the 16% (46) additional fatalities in 2015 Minister Maswanganyi refers to have come from is unclear, but presumably he is comparing finalised road fatality figures to the preliminary figures the current briefing and all such preliminary statistics briefings refer to.
This was not the only inconsistency contained in the Minister’s briefing. When referring to the cost of crashes to government, the Minister said “If all road users prioritise road safety, the resources that government spends unwittingly on accidents amounting 147 Billion Rands annually, which is equal to 3.4% of the country’s GDP” and “Over and above this figure the Road Accident Fund spends R33 Billion annually on payments of claims, which could be redirected to other government priorities which will go miles to address the triple challenges of employment, poverty and inequalities, thereby assisting us to increase the pace to achieve government radical socio-economic transformation”.
In September 2016, the CSIR published its report entitled the “cost of crashes in South Africa” which was commissioned by the RTMC and Department of Transport, wherein it was stated that the cost of road crashes to the economy in 2015 was R142.95 billion. This was not “the cost to government”, it was the cost to the economy and included private insurance claims, the socio-economic impact thereof, costs incurred in scene management, as well as claims payments made by the Road Accident Fund.
By the assertions of Minister Maswanganyi, not only was the study his own department commissioned the CSIR to conduct incorrect in its conclusions, but the actual cost of road crashes to government is R37 billion higher than the total cost to the economy.
Furthermore, the Minister has asserted that the occurrence of fatal crashes between “23h00 midnight (sic) until 05h00 in the morning” is a “new phenomenon [which] requires of us to spread our wings jointly informed by uniform working norms and standards”.
There is nothing “new” about this phenomenon and the Department of Transport and the RTMC have been bemoaning the fact that the lack of 24/7/365 traffic law enforcement on a national basis in South Africa. In 2015 Minister Peters said that the crashes which occurred in 2015 represented a departure from “the usual pattern of crashes happening between 22h00 and 06h00 when most of our law enforcers are not visible on the roads underpinned by the challenge of implementing law enforcement on a 24/7 basis”.
The question which must arise out of the contradictory information being disseminated by the various Ministers of Transport is “who is advising these Ministers?” There has been no change in the management at the RTMC since former Minister Peters appointed Advocate Makhosini Msibi, yet the RTMC and Department of Transport don’t appear to be able to keep their stories straight.
There is a huge difference between finalised road fatality figures and preliminary ones since finalised figures should follow a 30 day monitoring period for deaths which occur in hospital, as a result of road crashes. Finalised figures for the 2016 festive season have not yet been made public and will undoubtedly be higher than the 1,714 fatalities reported on 10 January 2017.
Similarly, there is a huge difference between the cost of road crashes to the economy and the direct costs incurred by government and whilst the Department of Transport is no stranger to grossly overstating the total cost of road crashes to the economy, even in the face of studies it commissions, it serves no purpose to artificially inflate the actual cost thereof by claiming that the government incurs somewhere in the order of R176 billion in costs arising therefrom.
Lastly, if the Minister is informed that it is in any way unusual for fatal crashes to occur during the hours of darkness when traffic authorities are sleeping, then it should be clear to anyone that he is severely misinformed.
This year’s Easter road fatalities represents an unmitigated catastrophe and trying to place spin on it in order to lessen the blow is both, disingenuous and extremely telling of the Department of Transport and RTMC’s complete failure to take ownership of the problem.