Official numbers give false view of road safety in SA

Easter road safety statistics released by Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula yesterday, 8 April would be encouraging if the broader Easter statistics from previous years aligned with today’s announcement. However, the Automobile Association (AA) says official numbers from previous years don’t reconcile with each other, or the Minister’s own numbers, and therefore any meaningful insights cannot be drawn.

“Published numbers from the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) – which reflect official data – show that during the 2019 Easter period, 228 people died on South African roads. Should this be the case, then this year’s preliminary number of 235 fatalities over the Easter period would be an increase not a decrease. However, Minister Mbalula yesterday noted that 260 people died over the Easter period in 2019, which would indicate a decrease. These numbers do not reconcile with each other, rendering commentary on them redundant,” says the AA.

In addition, the AA notes that the figure of 260 deaths over the Easter period in 2019 is not stated in official government documentation, bringing its veracity into question.

“In 2019, the Easter period fell between 18 and 21 April, yet the official statistics were signed off on 29 April, less than eight days later. Final figures would traditionally only be released after 31 days,” says the AA.

The AA also warns that any number provided now for the deaths over Easter 2021 is preliminary and comparing it to any final number from previous years is statistically irrelevant and premature. 

“We have a situation where the Minister of Transport says government is making headway in achieving road safety goals but his assessment is based on questionable data. No valuable conclusions can be drawn from these numbers because of the difference and unreliability of the statistics,” notes the AA.

The Association says the discrepancies in the numbers is further problematic because they should be used to inform future road safety plans and initiatives.

“Effective statistics are vital to ensuring proper allocation of resources and in determining the effectiveness of government’s road safety awareness campaigns, something which cannot be done with the current numbers. We would suggest these numbers, and the reporting mechanisms used to record and calculate them, be reviewed as a matter of urgency,” says the AA.

Regardless of the inconsistencies with the statistics, the AA says the number of fatalities on the country’s roads during festive periods remains too high.

“While we are not able to place reliance on the numbers presented, one death is one death too many. We also cannot be perpetuating a message that continually blames drivers for the high fatality rates. We know that human error causes crashes but this means that all involved must look for ways to build safe systems that acknowledge this factor and make allowances for it,” the AA maintains.

The Association says it is encouraged by the immense effort put in by traffic law enforcers countrywide to deal with the Easter traffic but that this is something which should be done every day of the year.

“Road safety cannot be a seasonal or event-driven, it has to be a continuous programme. Unless we realise this, and the importance of road safety to our society and economy, we will not solve the carnage on our roads, and we will also never meet the UN road safety targets for 2030,” the AA concludes.