Fatal road accident reduction in South Africa: Parliamentary Research Unit & public submissions

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21 November 2011
Chairperson: Ms N Bhengu (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee held public hearings on systems that might help to reduce accidents and reduce the number of fatalities arising from road accidents in South Africa. The Committee Researcher noted that an assessment by the World Bank was that more than 1.7 million people died from road accidents each year, and that 70% of those accidents happened in developing countries, with Africa having the highest number. In South Africa, in 1998, more than 16 000 per year died, and if this trend continued, road accidents would be the second largest cause of death by 2020. In 2009, there were 10 857 fatal crashes, but it was noted that the human error factor contributed 82% to these. Most of the fatalities in the last two years had been in KwaZulu Natal, with the lowest numbers in Northern Cape. Roadblocks were now being conducted, and did effect arrests. The highest contributors to accidents were speeding, fatigue, overtaking when it was not safe to do so, overloading and tyre bursts. The United Nations was running a “UN Decade of Action for Road Safety”, and each province and municipality should be reporting each month on accident rates. A points demerit system was to be rolled out soon under the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act. Since the National Rolling Enforcement Plan (NREP) had been introduced, almost 13 million vehicles and drivers were checked, more than 50 000 unsafe vehicles were taken off the road and 230 public transport drivers were arrested. However, every South African citizen, whether driver or pedestrian, must take better responsibility for his or her own road safety.

KZN Digi-Connect Consortium and Dongil Electronics proposed that fully-automated systems should be introduced at all driver’s licence test centres. These would standardise the driving testing system, computerise the administration of a drivers license and allow for rapid processing. The driving test would be fair, because it was standardised, would be protected from copying or fraud, would allow for rapid and safe simulation of driving tests, and reduce traffic accidents by making sure that drivers were better trained. The system, developed in Korea, was already being used in China and Russia. The management system would allow for retrieval and data search, and would automatically transfer data to the main server. All the local languages could be supported. The actual production of a driver’s licence would only take about five minutes. Examiners would be able to process more than 15 exams at the same time. On the field test, the vehicles would have wireless communication system to process the information and scores. The road driving test would be semi-automatic and the capacity could be adjusted according to the customer requirements. Dongil driving school had been operating for more than 40 years and was using similar systems.

Vodamap presented a self policing technology solution to reduce fatal accidents. The system would work on any type of vehicle and essentially consisted of a mobile digital event recorder, a “black box”, which used both stand-alone and fixed systems to monitor through cameras, real time sound recording and video activated by certain events, such as over-speeding or use of emergency lights. The main benefit was that it would promote road safety and driver awareness if drivers knew that their every move was recorded, but it could also be self funded, regulatory and insurance subsidised. A limited trial would be conducted over the holiday period on the “Arrive Alive” project in KZN at no cost to the Department of Transport.    

The Automobile Association (AA) bemoaned the fact that road safety did not have significant support from either civil society or political platforms, and said that the increase in vehicle ownership, combined with deteriorating road infrastructure and roadworthy standards, had contributed to the high fatality and injury rate, which it estimated was costing South Africa about R140 billion and loss of valuable human capital every year. The responsibility for road safety should rest at all spheres of government. The Road Traffic Management Corporation was the lead agency, although it was experiencing problems at the moment. AA urged that there was a need to collect accurate data to evaluate road safety. Pedestrians were involved in 40% of fatal accidents. Although there were plans to run road safety education campaigns, this had not happened and interventions from government were urgently needed. There was also a need for better publicity campaigns and media, enforcement, better management of provincial traffic inspectorates, better enforcement of the seatbelt legislation, including a requirement that manufacturers should install rear seatbelts. Most of pedestrian fatalities occurred during periods of low light, when pedestrians were only seen by motorists when it was too late to avoid the accident, and there was a challenge of not only educating drivers, but also pedestrians, about not using the roads while they were drunk. AA proposed that it would be useful to have first the practical K53 driver test, but that provisional licences would have to be held for eighteen months, to reduce the numbers of accidents by new drivers. Secondly, certificates of fitness testing must be reviewed, based on mileage not time. It also proposed that regional road safety forums were needed twice a year. It was disappointed that the spending on road funding was not achieving the correct results.

The Committee asked some questions of clarity and noted that it would be holding workshops early in the new year.

Meeting report

Fatal road accident reduction in South Africa: Parliamentary Research Unit & public submissions Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson explained that the Committee, in pursuance of its goal to investigate fatal road accidents and seek to translate the President’s State of the Nation priorities into action, had invited public submissions on how to reduce road fatalities in South Africa. The President and Minister had signed an agreement that would deal with the reduction of fatal accidents on the roads, which she believed were largely due to bad attitude of drivers. She believed that the Committee had to take a strong stance to implement something that would address the loss of lives.

Portfolio Committee researcher submission
Mr Sifiso Ngesi, Committee Researcher, Parliamentary Research Unit, gave a presentation that was focused on the 2009/10 statistics of road fatalities. World Bank stated that more than 1.7 million people died in road accidents in the world and 70% of those happened in the developing countries. Africa had the highest road accident rate.

In South Africa, more than 16 000 people died each year as a result of road accidents. If the trends continued, by 2020 road accidents would be the second largest cause of deaths, higher than HIV/Aids and malaria combined. The “Arrive Alive” road safety campaign, which was introduced in 1997, had reduced the number of accidents on South African roads by 5%, compared to the same period in the previous year. Another main objective of that campaign was to improve road user compliance with traffic laws.

The 2009 annual statistics stated that. between 1 January and 31 December 2009, 10 857 fatal crashes occurred, a reduction of 0.77% compared to 2008. Human factors contributed by more than 82% to total crashes, while vehicles error or dysfunction contributed by 9%, and road environment by more than 8%. According to the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), 1 582 deaths emanated from 1 247 fatal crashes during 2009/10. During the 2009/10 festive season KwaZulu-Natal had the highest number of 298 fatal crashes, followed by Gauteng province with 237. Northern Cape had the least, at 66 fatal crashes.

He reported that 1 500 roadblocks were set up throughout the country and more than 6 000 vehicles, including buses and taxis were impounded, suspended or discontinued. Several arrests were effected, including 3 917 for drunk driving, 415 for excessive speeding and 250 for overloading. Three major accidents in KwaZulu Natal over the festive season in 2010/11 claimed more than 31 lives. During 2010/11,KwaZulu Natal again showed the highest number of fatal accidents, with 232, followed by Gauteng with 200, whilst Northern Cape had the lowest at 35.  Contributory factors to those accidents were speeding, fatigue, overtaking when it was not safe to do so, overloading and tyre bursts.

In January 2011 a speedster was arrested for travelling at 208km per hour, and being three times over the legal limit of blood alcohol level . The Free State MEC for Sport, Arts and Culture was arrested for speeding at 235km per hour in a 120km/h zone.

South Africa had committed itself into reducing road fatalities between 2007and 2015. Government had joined the United Nations (UN) Decade of Action for Road Safety in 2011 to 2020. The finalisation and implementation of South Africa’s National Road Safety Strategy and Action Plan for 2011 meant that there would be better utilisation of human and financial resources across the spheres of government to address the road deaths.

Every Province, district and local municipality ought to report every month on the number of road accidents occurring in their area. From May 2011, at least 10 000 drivers should be screened every month for drinking and driving. The new National Rolling Enforcement Plan (NREP) was vigorously enforced. The Road Traffic Act had been amended by the Department of Transport. The Department had started with the rollout of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO) Act that dealt with a points demerit system that was to be announced in due course. The Department of Transport (DoT or the Department) was strengthening partnerships with other Governmental Departments like Department of Health. DoT was also improving its data and reporting on road facilities and injuries and it had also embarked on a massive education and communication campaign on road safety.

Since the inception of the NREP, 12 984 120 vehicles and drivers had been checked and 50 272 un-roadworthy vehicles were taken out of use. More than 230 public transport drivers were arrested.

In conclusion, he said that all road users should take road safety very seriously and should make it a priority and the government should continue with its campaigns, road shows and awareness programmes to educate the public about road safety. The importance of safe road infrastructure should also not be underestimated.

Mr M De Freitas (DA) stated that he was confused with the statistics on South Africa road fatality accidents he had received from the presenters, as there were some that seemed to be conflicting. He also asked Mr Ngesi to clarify the source of his information, and indicated that he would have preferred to hear some further research.

The Chairperson said that nobody from Arrive Alive was present.

She also noted that Mr Collin Letsoale was employed by the DoT, and not the RTMC, in a caretaker capacity only and could not be expected to answer for the RTMC problems.

Mr Ngesi noted that the figure of 14 million was the figure for fatalities. The total number of traffic accident would be much higher.

KZN Digi-Connect Consortium and Dongil Electronics Company Limited submission
Mr Dennis Memela, Executive Director, Digi-Connect, said that the KZN Digi-Connect Consortium and Dongil Electronics (the Consortium) was proposing that there should be a fully automated system in the driver’s licenses test centres. The purpose of the of e-Driver’s test centres would be to standardise the driving testing system, to computerise the administrative aspects of a drivers license and to enable rapid processing by computerisation.

If this was done, the expected effects would be to have a fair and quick driving test procedure, and to reduce traffic accidents. The test also reduced labour costs and would enable South African tests to be conducted according to international standards. This system, which emanated in Korea, was also used in China and Russia. The system had configurations on registration, management, issuing of license theory, practical tests and road systems.

The registration system should be responsible for receiving all the tests, and this would include physical inspection and theory, road and practical tests. The management system had to see to it that all data search, retrieval, statistical would be printed out. Test bookings, change and cancellation of dates could be made through this management system. All the data had to be automatically transferred to the main server safely. The programme would be supported in the local languages. Driver’s licenses would be designed according to the requests of an applicant, to include basic information, validity period and class type.

The driver’s license production would take approximately five minutes. The system would also be able to cope with the reissuing of driver’s license. The theoretical system would also be computer-based, from registration, to downloading test questions and the results. The test questions would not be kept on the computer, to prevent leakage of test questions, so that after the candidate had pressed the “complete” button after answering the questions, the system would clear and the results would be received.

The system was also an automatically evaluation system for practical driving tests in the field. Examiners would be able to process more than fifteen exams at the same time. On the field test, the vehicles would have wireless communication systems to process the information and scores.

Mr Memela assured the Committee that it would be impossible to manipulate or tamper with the results of the test. The test would be conducted by text, voice and icon at the same time. The land size of the driving field would differ, according to the vehicle used, and the license applied for. Scoring regulations could differ from those of the other countries. The road driving test would be semi-automatic and the capacity could be adjusted according to the customer requirements.

Dongil Driving School had been operating for more than 40 years and dealt with professional systems that were related to driving school, and operated the same as the Digi-Connect systems.

Mr De Freitas thanked the presenters, but asked for clarity as to how this system would work in areas that had no computers or electricity. He also asked if the computer could not be tampered with, and wanted to know the reason for having any human intervention. He also asked if it was possible to issue registration numbers. He wondered what use this would be to private individuals.

Mr L Suka (ANC) suggested that simulators ought to be placed in all municipalities.

Mr Memela explained that, in the wake of the recession, South Africa needed new innovations. The simulation used technology that would assist the country in future. South Africa was a developing country. Conducting the tests with a simulator meant that there would not be use of fuel. It would still be possible to use this system in places where there was no electricity. At the moment there were discussions with Hyundai about installing cameras in Hyundai cars. However, this system could be used in any car. He assured Members that it would be possible to find out if there had been attempts to tamper with the computers or the system.

Vodamap submission
Mr Gert du Plessis, Chairperson, Vodmap, stated that he wished to present on a self policing technology that sought to reduce fatal accidents, improve road safety, resolve accident dispute and to change driver’s behaviour and awareness. He noted that this system would work on government, city council, municipality vehicles and business vehicles. It could also work in heavy duty vehicles and transport companies. Public transport could also apply for the system to be installed.

The proposed technology was a mobile digital event recorder called a “black box” for vehicles. This technology would change the driver’s behaviour and could be used for driver training and evaluation. The system could also resolve disputes, reduce insurance costs, vehicle abuse and stock loss. It promoted road safety and driver awareness as it was constantly recording detailed routes, speed behaviour and other factors. The system was divided into stand alone and fixed systems. With the stand-alone system there would be a single forward facing camera or forward and rear facing cameras. The fixed integrated system could accommodate up to four cameras in one vehicle.

Those systems were able to record video, audio, harsh braking, vehicle speed and events such as impacts, doors opening, lights and sirens. The recordings were activated via a panic button, over-speeding, or shock lights activated. All the units would be equipped with pre and post recording to ascertain what happened before the incident and directly thereafter. Those recordings would be stored on storage card, and the recordings could not be deleted or overwritten while in the device.

Every vehicle driver would benefit from the car black box, which was similar to the two systems he had described. The black-box was loaded with basic personal computing software, and that made it easy to print an event from any frame selection. The car black box had accessories and additional extras like full colour in-vehicle monitor, a tamper proof security box, weather proof IR cameras and external microphone.

Vodamap said that the car black box models could be self funded, regulatory and insurance subsidised. Vodamap proposed to the Committee that Vodamap should prove the concept by conducting a limited trial over the holiday period on the “Arrive Alive” project in KZN, at no cost to the Department of Transport.

Mr De Freitas appreciated the Vodamap presentation. He wanted to know if it was possible to get registration numbers with the cameras that would be installed in the vehicle. He also wanted to know what benefit the system would offer to the public, as well as to the traffic police.

Mr Gert Du Plessis explained that the technology was one component but the presentation had broken it down into different parts. He also explained that in the videos he had shown had used the lowest-definition camera. With the police vehicle system, many more cameras would be installed than in a private vehicle. He also mentioned that the quality of the video could be set to show things in lower speeds. There were different needs for installation of the system in different vehicles. One of the primary benefits would be in relation to insurance. The key to the concept, however, was that it would have a positive influence on driver behaviour if the driver knew that everything was being recorded.

Mr L Suka (ANC) appreciated the two presentations. He wanted clarity as to who would install the black box. He also asked about the life span of the black box, and wondered if it could also be made applicable to motor bikes.  He mentioned that there was nothing in the school curriculum that assisted students with knowledge about driving cars. South Africa desperately needed some technology that would help decrease the fatal accidents. He mentioned again that the Committee appreciated the approach, and reiterated that simulators should be installed in all municipalities.  

Automobile Association South Africa submission
Mr Gary Ronald, representative, Automobile Association of South Africa (AA), said that road safety in South Africa was not receiving enough support from either civil society or political platforms, and was not receiving priority as a public health and safety issue. The increase in n vehicle ownership, combined with deteriorating road infrastructure and road standards had contributed to the sustained high fatality and injury costs in South Africa, and was costing the South African economy was losing about R140 billion and valuable human capital per year.

The United Nations had launched a “UN Decade of Action in South Africa” that would focus on road safety in South Africa, together with a defined timeline, but nothing concrete had happened with this, more than a year later. The road safety responsibility was primarily driven by government. The Road RTMC was the lead agency for road safety. The Department of Transport, the Minister and the “Arrive Alive” campaign had provided road safety policy and guidelines but little had come to fruition. Many of the problems were seen as common.

South Africa was the leading developed country in the sub-Sahara Africa, yet the technology and infrastructure had not stopped the death of about 14 000 citizens every year and about 55 000 serious injuries (statistics published in 1998). Accurate data should be collected annually in order to evaluate the status of the road safety in our country. Pedestrians, the most vulnerable road users, contributed to almost 40% of all fatalities every year. Mobility in South Africa had grown rapidly. R200 million would see the strategy developed into quantifiable and measurable outcomes that would result in lives being saved. All that was needed was a workable action plan. The plans to have continuous road safety education in South African schools and work places had not happened. AA believed that interventions from the governmental departments would have a positive outcome on the road safety situation in South Africa.

Publicity campaigns, and the use of media, ought to be more effectively utilised. He noted that traffic law enforcement was in a state of flux in our country. Road engineers with a limited understanding of traffic law enforcement had managed many provincial traffic inspectorates. Traffic safety specialists were in agreement that in order to curb the high number of injuries and deaths in South Africa roads, the country had to focus on effective visible policing of moving traffic violations, seatbelt usage, and driver and pedestrian alcohol and substance abuse.

International studies had shown that there was a direct correlation between the severity of the injury and seatbelt usage. In 1995, legislation was introduced to make it compulsory for both front and rear passengers to wear a seatbelt, yet in South Africa, there was no law that child restraints had to be used, and these were not installed automatically.

Most pedestrian fatalities occurred during periods of low light, when motorists did not see the pedestrian until it was too late to avoid the accident. Therefore, there had to be more emphasis on using retro-reflective material on everyday clothing. The National Department of Transport, through its offence monitoring report, had established that after dark 1.15% of drivers were driving whilst drunk. The real challenge was to educate pedestrians about the risk of walking while drunk. No recent technology could be used to screen drugged drivers and to determine type of the drug consumed.

AA had submitted two suggestions for interventions within the public transport sector as a matter of urgency. The first intervention was that the certificate of fitness testing had to be reviewed based on mileage not time. Secondly the PrDP (public carrier permit) issuing and renewal process had to incorporate a physical driver skills assessment. Driver licensing and the standard of learner driver training needed to be reviewed as a matter of urgency. AA supported the view that the implementation of a provisional driver’s license after passing the practical K53 test, for a period of eighteen months, prior to issuing an unrestricted driver’s license would do much to reduce the numbers of new drivers involved in accidents.

A further problem was that the Metropolitan Police were loath to perform traffic control duties, and South African Police Service (SAPS) officials preferred to investigate crime rather than traffic crashes. This resulted in a dilution of effort. There was a need to change the perception of motorists that all traffic officers could be bribed.

AA wanted to place on record its disappointment at the manner in which public funding was spent. National Treasury had allocated almost R30 billion for road funding in the year 2010/11. AA believed that a dramatic change should have been seen.

AA further submitted that competent contractors had to be appointed, through a correct process, for maintaining roads Regional road safety forums had to be held twice a year. The success of current projects should be evaluated, to find the best mechanism to interact with the various government departments on an ongoing basis. The South African government had been blamed for failing to deliver on its promises of a substantial reduction of road related injuries and deaths, although the fault in many cases lay at the door of the road users. Citizens should be more responsible for their own safety. AA proposed that road safety campaigns had to be simple and easily understood, with clear defined outcomes that would encourage stakeholders and community participation.

The Chairperson clarified that the Committee was not looking particularly at the companies, but at the concepts they proposed, so that if solutions were proposed that would justify it, the Committee would try to facilitate legislation to put that into effect. These presentations and concepts would be revisited by the Committee in the first term of the following year. This meeting was starting the process. She noted that the entities that had presented today had said that they had solutions to offer.

Mr Farrow agreed with the Chairperson that it would be useful to hold a workshop to discuss systems that could decrease fatal accidents on South African roads. The ideas of the presenters needed to be tabled. He also mentioned that there was a technical division that dealt with the road safety.

Mr Ronald noted that AA was willing to work with the Committee. He noted that the statistics in his presentation represented a summary of all traffic accidents.

Ms D Dlakude (ANC) noted that there were common concerns about the problem of road fatalities and the Committee was aware of the problems that faced the RTMC. The Members were appreciative of the Chairperson’s efforts to organise this meeting and Members would study the information carefully.

The Chairperson noted that those who had presented today had been invited because of the research that the Chairperson had done. She thanked all presenters for being willing to assist. She would like those who presented today also to participate in a workshop early in the year. She also expressed her thanks to Mr Letsoalo, Acting Chief Executive Officer, RTMC, for persevering with trying to find a solution to the problems that faced the Corporation, and said the Committee wanted to ensure that it could become functional.

The meeting was adjourned.


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