Transport month is behind us and as is often the case with noteworthy days, weeks and months, there was debate on the matter. But November brings us to the brink of the holiday season, with the accompanying upsurge in leisure travel, and with it, a spike in road crashes and fatalities.

Our road and rail networks are the arteries of our nation, and their condition and efficiency dictate our health, in all its aspects, and our socioeconomic viability.

It’s no overstatement that our constrained transport network has an impact on every aspect of our economy and society. The GAIN Group research consultancy recently reported that inefficient rail transport costs SA R1bn a day, with a projected loss of R400bn, the annual equivalent of 6% of GDP.

Crime, especially cable-theft and vandalism, continues to eviscerate the rail network: 1 600km of cabling stolen in the last financial year, and 75% of SA’s rail network is now inoperable.

Partly as a consequence, the number of trains plying the crucial Joburg-Durban route daily has dropped from 70 to 10, and the amount for freight being transported has fallen to levels last seen in World War Two.

It’s well-documented that these failings continue to hamstring our key exports: coal, ore, fresh produce, wine and motor-vehicles. In all, 31% of our GDP is at risk.

If transport networks are arteries, then what they carry is the lifeblood of the economy: goods, services, but especially people. SA already has a dreadful road-safety record, and one which the Automobile Association (AA) regards as a national crisis: the Road Traffic Management Corporation reported that from January to December 2022, 12436 people died on our roads. From 2013 to 2022, 126 526 road deaths were recorded.

How many of those could, for example, have been prevented if commuters had access to safe, affordable, reliable passenger trains, and busses operated on proper roads?

Returning the rail network to its full operational capacity would enable rail to regain its position as the transport mode of choice and alleviate pressure – in every sense of the word – from our roads. That would in turn make traveling safer and less fraught.

That must be accompanied by investment – financial and resources – to damaged and neglected road on major routes, in metropolitan areas, and in rural towns.

With less road damage to fix, there’s more money available for socioeconomic development, and investment in public transport. But simply removing multi-tonned behemoths from our roads won’t make them as safe as they should be: achieving that requires a broad swathe of interventions that must be applied consistently, not just for a few weeks in the festive season. Central to that is adequate policing, which remains woefully inadequate: A 2019 study by the Traffic Law Enforcement Review Committee (TLERC) – established by the previous Minister of Transport Dipou Peters – recommended a doubling of the number of traffic law enforcers throughout SA as a critical measure towards improving this situation.

In addition, traffic law enforcement must be extended to a 24-7-365 model in all areas of the country to be effective.

The road-safety awareness campaigns unfurled at this time of the year have their place, but they, too, must become a constant presence in the minds of road users, along with the constant presence of law-enforcement agencies.

You won’t change driver behaviour through three weeks of campaigning when, for the rest of the year, nothing else is done. Introducing any new traffic legislation will also not solve the problem: you cannot legislate yourself out of a problem that requires boots on the ground.

Drink driving remains a scourge and must be dealt with more effectively than it is now. Statistics from the TLERC Report suggest than only 10% of drivers arrested for drunk driving are prosecuted.

This isn’t unfixable: A collaboration between the organization Aware.org and the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD), for example, has delivered the rollout of effective evidential blood alcohol technology (EBAT) to ensure the efficacy and admissibility in court of blood-alcohol tests. The National Institute for Crime Prevention and Reintegration of Offenders (NICRO) offers offenders an opportunity to rehabilitate.

Awareness campaigns must also highlight the fact that it’s easier than ever to avoid drink-driving: A variety of alcohol-free drinks are available, as are ride-hailing services. Obviously, public safety remains paramount. The AA and Bolt have a partnership whereby users can access the AA’s emergency response services through the SOS button in the Bolt app’s Safety Toolkit. This feature enables drivers and passengers to connect quickly and easily to private armed response teams and private emergency medical rescue if they are involved in any medical or security emergency while on a Bolt ride, at no cost.

The diverse seemingly disparate interventions outlined above constitute a swarm of measures to eradicate crime and inefficiencies from our nation’s arteries and in doing so safeguard the humanity and economic activity which they enable.

 

  • Artie Jina is Director of Parts Supply and Logistics at Ford Motor Company South Arica. Willem Groenewald is CEO of the Automobile Association of South Africa