Road Safety: What We Can Learn From Australia

Some 47 lives are lost on South African roads annually. Thousands more are injured.

Lead SA recently lined a section of the N14 highway outside Johannesburg with coffins in an attempt to create awareness and put the death toll in perspective. The “shock tactic” had some impact and it certainly brought the message home.

We often hear how fewer people are killed on other countries’ roads, including Australia.

I recently visited Australia and met with government and law enforcement officials, civil society leaders and road safety activists.

According to the Australian Roads Research Board (ARRB), 1193 people were killed on their roads in 2013. Last year, it was about 1200. These figures include drivers, passengers, pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists.

Fatigue, driver distractions such as cell phones, drinking and drug abuse, not wearing seatbelts and speed are said to be the main causes of collisions “Down Under.”

Authorities say they adopt a “zero tolerance approach”, but ongoing enforcement, education and awareness create a culture of road safety. And yes, they use repeated messaging and shock tactics.

Police in New South Wales and Victoria say covert surveillance, random breathalyzer tests and speed cameras have contributed largely to bring down the road carnage.

In 1970, 3798 lives were lost on Australian roads, 3252 in 1982, 1817 in 2000. The target is to bring the death toll down to 1100 this year.

Victoria is more successful. In this state, there is little leniency and even if you exceed the speed limit by a kilometer, you’re in trouble. High police visibility is what they pride themselves on.

The points system works wonders. Over the Christmas and Easter period, motorists who break the rules of the road get slammed with double demerits.

Shortly after we launched in 2010, Lead SA appealed to drivers to have their vehicle’s headlights on at all times. The ARRB says it is making a difference, especially on rural Australian roads.

In New South Wales, it is mandatory to have your vehicle retested every five years.

Corruption is not a major problem in Australia and only a handful of law enforcers have been arrested and charged over the past year.

There is clearly no single solution in bringing down the road fatality rate in South Africa. We need a multi-faceted approach but more importantly, we need action. There has just been far too much talking and little action back home.

We have laws and these laws need to be implemented. Motorists must start taking responsibility too. For as long as this does not happen, there is little chance that we are going to succeed in bringing down the 17 000+ body count every year.

There are plans to implement the point system later this year. It can only work if it is administered effectively and it is corruption-free.

We keep on stressing the need for police visibility on our roads. It needs to be sustained 365 days a year. Having the cops out in full force over long weekends and holiday periods only, is not going to stop the blood from flowing.

Lead SA has repeatedly called on authorities to name and shame convicted drunk drivers. A pilot project in the Western Cape was successful. Despite promises, and over two years later, the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) has still not implemented it. The project has therefore been halted indefinitely. In Australia, drug abuse and driving is a growing problem. More resources are being invested in testing drivers.

When I spoke to some Australian citizens, it is clear that most have a culture of obeying the rules, regulations and laws. No wonder the crime levels in that country are so low.

The Aussie cops say they engage communities on a regular basis and not only during a crisis. They tackle road safety, alcohol abuse, the drug problem and even ISIS recruitment every day.

The Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle impressed me. Community involvement, volunteerism and a crime-free city are but just some of his focus areas. And yes, he has a South African professor working in his office.

Crime in Melbourne is down by 20%. Doyle says at the same time alcohol sales have come down by 11% and this has contributed to the status of being “the world’s most livable city.

Responding to the Xenophobic attacks in South Africa, Doyle says “perhaps you want to look at ways of bringing all the different nationalities and cultures together and celebrate them.”

Addressing an audience at the Australian Institute of International Affairs, I stressed the need for all global citizens to work together, promote peace and learn from one another.

As much as South Africa has problems – like the high road fatalities, crime, poverty and unemployment -we will always be a “rainbow nation.” We need to all work together, roll up our sleeves and find solutions.

We have the expertise in this country to come up with sustainable solutions. I know of so many South Africans that have brilliant ideas to tackle road safety issues, but these ideas are not reaching the decision makes.

Perhaps it is time for authorities to engage these individuals and companies towards making a positive impact on how we deal with the carnage on our roads.

Thousands of South Africans have found a home in Australia. But I reminded them: “Home is home. Come back and assist us in building a better South Africa and keeping Nelson Mandela’s legacy alive.”

*Parts of this article first appeared in The Star Newspaper.

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