Minister Carlisle Addressing the Road Traffic Seminar
Raod Traffic Seminar Organised by Lands University (Sweden)
South Africa has one of the worst road traffic safety records. Statistics show that approximately 10 000 people lose their lives on the country's roads per year. The Western Cape is not immune to this calamity. In 2008, it was estimated that on average five people died in fatal road crashes in our province per day.
The impact of road fatalities on our society is devastating. They shatter families; create child-heated households in families already overburdened by poverty, and cost our economy a staggering fifty billion rand (R50b) a year. The saddest part of this is that many, if not all, road accidents and fatalities are avoidable.
If all us, particularly motorists, took our responsibility for road safety as seriously as we ought to, the billions of rands spent dealing with the devastating impact of road fatalities could be used to eradicate the country's road maintenance backlogs and hiring more traffic officers both of which will in turn help make our road much safer than they are.
It is clear to everyone that the main reason we lose so many lives on our roads is because our country's road safety interventions have, so far, not been successful in making our road safe. The national Arrive Alive campaign resulted in a relative decrease in road fatalities in its early years and subsequently deteriorated since the beginning of the new millennium.
A lot of taxpayers' money was injected to the Arrive Alive campaign without meaningful results. The experience in Kwazulu Natal and Western Cape, which are the two provinces with clear road safety strategies, is that road safety campaigns must be driven by consistent and energetic law enforcement backed strong political will.
The appointment of Dr. Sbu Ndebele as the Minister of Transport seems to have given other provinces a wake-up call as they are now required to develop and implement road traffic safety strategies.
Now let me share with you what we are doing in the Western Cape to deal with road traffic safety. We launched the Safely Home campaign last year with the aim of halving the road fatalities by 2014. Many people think that our goal is too ambitious but we are confident that it is achievable and early indications show that we are well on track to achieving this.
Between April 2008 and March, 1 483 people died in road accidents in the province. In the same period last year, we reduce road fatalities by 11.9%. If we continue to record this progress for the next four years we will achieve our goal of halving the death rate on our roads by 2014.
The primary focus of our Safely Home campaign interventions is mostly in public transport. We have two bus inspection centres on the N1 and in Beaufort West. Our law enforcement colleagues inspect each and every bus that enters or exits the province there. The buses are inspected for roadworthiness and operating licenses to ensure that they are fit and legally allowed to be on roads. We also check the drivers' documents to ensure that they have the legitimate drivers' license.
These interventions complement normal enforcement operations. Because of these, we have been successful in taking unsafe and unlicensed buses off our roads. Yet there are still buses that escape our scrutiny because some operators use back roads to enter or exit the province just so they can avoid these inspections. We are currently identifying these roads with the intention of policing them. It may not be possible to check every single bus at all times but we will make it almost impossible for them to escape our scrutiny.
That focus carries through to the minibus taxi industry which is plagued by five major problems namely: unroadworthy vehicles, overloading, illegal operators or worse taxis that operate off route which often incites taxi violence, and in some cases operators who hire unlicensed drivers.
Our response to this is decisive. We impound every public transport vehicle that operates off route or does not have an operating licensing. We also prevent unroadworthy vehicles from continuing with their trips on our roads until the identified defaults have been fixed.
And contrary to the belief of some sections of the minibus taxi industry, we don't their vehicles only.
I do not enjoy impounding taxis because that takes away bread from the tables of many families but impounding is a necessary intervention to keep our roads safe.
Our two pound facilities are almost full and we are process of securing more pound facilities to house the growing number of vehicles that we will impound as part of the Safely Home campaign. One of the new pound facilities should be operational during the festive season while two more pounds will be ready for business next year.
We are currently in the process of finalising new legislation that will make minibus taxi owners and bus companies liable for their drivers' actions. It is not enough to penalise drivers only when their employers are often the source of the law transgressions. Another piece of legislation that we will introduce in due course will compel all long distance public transport vehicles to have two drivers who will interchange throughout the journey.
Currently some bus companies do this. Many of them, however, don't do it. We hope that this legislation will go a long way to eliminate driver fatigue which is one of the major causes of accidents in public transport.
Our toughest battle in road safety so far is drunk driving. It was clear to me from the onset that we will not win the war on drunk driving by relying on state forensic laboratories for blood alcohol readings to enforce drunk driving hence our move to use breathalyser technology which I am totally committed to continue using.
We opened the first Safely Home Anti drunk Driving Operations War-Room, famously known as SHADOW, in December last year. To date we have more than 5 600 drunk drivers at the centre. Approximately 3 500 of those tested were above the legal breath alcohol limit. Currently, there are some people who are challenging the use of this breathalyser technology. Accordingly, the Cape High Court will soon rule on this matter and we are confident that we will triumph. Once the Cape High Court has ruled on the matter, drunk driving cases will move swiftly through the courts.
In the meantime, we have gone the extra mile to curb drunk driving by naming and shaming convicted drunk drivers in partnership with the Cape Argus newspaper. We launched this initiative with the publication of the details of 153 convicted drunk drivers in October and last month we published 52. We don't want to rely only on convictions to change behaviour. Our aim was clearly articulated by Premier Helen Zille said last week when she said that 'we want to make drunk driving a taboo here as it is in some countries'.
My office is inundated with requests to lift the suspension and cancelation of drivers' licenses by people whose license were either cancelled or suspended for their utter contempt for road safety. I have rejected all of them and will continue to do so for as long as I'm the Minister of Transport in this province.
A key part of the Safely Home campaign is to protect vulnerable road users, particularly pedestrians and cyclists from accidents on our roads. We are also finalising new legislation that will promote safe cycling. The twin features of the new legislation will be the introduction of a safe passing distance of 1.5 metres in respect of bicycles and cyclists, will in turn, be required to ride in single file at all times on our roads.
Research, which is what many of you gathered here are good at, is a valuable resource to make roads safe. We have to know who the road killers are, when and where they kill, and under which circumstances do they kill so that we can intervene proactively to prevent accidents before they occur. What is rapidly emerging from our own research is that the most dangerous road users in the province are males between the ages of 18 - 35 usually driving a small but fast car.