Minister Peters Has Missed an Opportunity to Tackle Child Road Safety Head-On
Statement by Donald Grant, Minister of Transport and Public Works
The third annual Global Road Safety Partnership Africa Summit held this week put the focus squarely on the terrible toll suffered on the roads by the children of Africa in general and South Africa in particular.
National Minister of Transport, Dipuo Peters, gave a speech outlining the national government’s plans to develop a safe and effective public transport system and greatly improve South Africa’s road network. She also reported that a draft of a new Scholar Transport policy for South Africa will soon be available.
The Minister must be commended for her passion about protecting children, but unfortunately her words are not being backed up with sufficient action, especially in the short and medium term. The safe and effective public transport network, the improved roads, and the new policy she described will help bring down road deaths, but only over a very long period of time, and will by no means address the issue holistically.
The real issue for Africa’s children, particularly those who live in poor communities, is the horrific rate at which they are being run down in the street by motorists, most of whom were driving too fast. The most accurate figures for South Africa indicate that nearly 3 000 children are killed on the roads annually, and the vast majority of them are pedestrians (NIMS 2012). In the Western Cape, our mortuary data indicates that in 2013, 66% of the 191 children killed on the roads were run over. Nearly all of these dead children were from poor, historically disadvantaged communities.
The Minister can show that she cares about the lives of poor children by using her position within the Justice Cluster to pressure SAPS to prioritise road traffic violations, particularly where children are killed. Never again do we want to hear about another Lwandile Tongo, whose killer, having run this little 11-year-old boy down in the street while driving too fast and under the influence of alcohol, was simply allowed by SAPS to walk away.
The Minister can, furthermore, use her position to lobby for effective mandatory sentencing guidelines for serious road traffic offences, notably in cases where people are killed, especially children. While the killer of 18-year-old Courtney Moore has yet to be sentenced, we suspect that he, like many other speedsters before him, will walk away with the gentlest of slaps on the wrist.
I also urge the Minister to join our call to motorists to slow down, and echo our Safely Home programme’s message of educating the public about the dangers of speed, especially as children are the road users who are most vulnerable to speeding drivers. The campaign is running online on social networks (@WCGovSafelyHome) under the hastag #SpeedKillsFacts.
Minister Peters has the opportunity to lead from the front against the scourge that is killing at least 17 000 people annually, nearly 3 000 of them our children. This will require more than lip service to road safety with her recent speech indicating that she has not yet risen to this challenge. I sincerely hope she does, and soon, as South Africa’s children are paying a very high price indeed.