Road accident rates: Road Traffic Management Corporation intervention

NCOP Public Services

19 February 2013
Chairperson: Mr M Sibande (ANC, Mpumalanga)
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Meeting Summary

The Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) outlined its ten year strategy to ensure safer roads in South Africa from 2011 to 2020. The presentations outlined the contribution by the RTMC towards reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of reducing child mortality, combating HIV/AIDS (which was often spread in accidents, especially where truck drivers were involved), and empowering women. RTMC aimed to halve the number of crash fatalities by 2015. The links between poverty, unemployment and road safety made it vital to improve rural access and urban mobility. A report back was given on the African Road Safety Conference held in Ghana in 2007, including the progress of implementing the resolutions around road safety, road safety education and data collection in South Africa. The major threat was that if RTMC continued on its present path, it was unlikely to reach the target of reducing fatalities by the targeted dates. The road safety strategy included recognition that RTMC must collaborate with other departments, promote research and coordinate stakeholders. The five pillars of the Decade of Action were road safety management, safer roads and mobility, safer vehicles, safer road users and post crash responses. Training of officials was being done, including one senior official being trained by the FBI in the USA, on Anti Corruption techniques. There was heavy emphasis placed on the fact that all programmes must be audited, monitored and evaluated. The results had shown that there was stronger co-ordination and harmonisation, effective monitoring and evaluation. Although it was still small, there was a year on year reduction in offence and causality figures. The main challenges were lack of resources, lack of 24-hour traffic surveillance, lack of HR capacity, fraud and corruption, and some disputes around the views of so called “road safety experts.”

Members were critical of the report, noting that although it started well, it was too academic and too generalized. The most substantial criticism, voiced by all Members, was that it did not specify what was being done in the provinces, other than noting that the RTMC had difficulty in enforcing in some provinces, which also raised questions around accountability. Members stressed that, as representatives for their provincial legislatures, they needed to be kept specifically informed of provincial challenges and events in order to monitor the situation. Tension rose when one Member pointed out that the cover page of the report referred to the Portfolio Committee, and this led to the accusation that the report was little more than a cut-and-paste of an earlier presentation, without focused preparation. Some members felt that the meeting should be adjourned, but the Chairperson and others noted that important questions had been raised that should be answered. They felt that the officials were attempting to make excuses, but agreed that the meeting could continue, on the understanding that a written apology must be sent to the Committee, and that a provincial report must also be provided, within the next fourteen days. Members were also unhappy that officials were being trained by the FBI, believing that South Africa was opening itself up to the possibility of its information being used to its disadvantage.

Members asked why there was not more and ongoing testing for alcohol use, wondered if certain roads and road conditions worsened the accident rate, questioned cooperation and the value of programme with the departments of Education, who the stakeholders were, whether the taxi councils were involved, , the fact that people still obtained licences through bribery, and the necessity for having employment contracts that made provision for shifts and enforcement of 24 hour coverage in all provinces. The capacity, including enforcement capacity of RTMC was another major point. Members felt that RTMC had not issued statements when it should have, and generally was not proactive enough.

Meeting report

Towards safer roads in South Africa: Road Traffic Management Corporation briefing
Advocate James Mlawu, Deputy Director General, Department of Transport, noted that the Corporation (RTMC) had a strategy towards safer roads, running from 2011 to 2020, which aimed, together with interventions also from the Department of Transport (DOT or the Department) to reverse the dangers presently facing road users in South Africa.

Ms Refilwe Mongale, Acting Chief Executive Officer, RTMC, noted that the RTMC report entitled Safe Roads in South Africa outlined the changes that RTMC were needed to address the crisis on South African roads. She noted that this report included sections on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a report back on the Ghana Conference Resolution, the Pillars of the Decade of Action, steps to co-ordination and implementation, anticipated results of implementation, challenges and threats.

Millennium Development Goals
A number of subtopics were mentioned, such as the goal to reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, eradicate poverty, combat HIV/AIDS (which was often spread on the roads and accidents, especially where truck drivers are involved), malaria and other diseases, and provide gender equality and the empowerment of women. All of these matters were directly linked to road fatalities. The RTMC report aimed to halve the number of crash fatalities by 2020. It highlighted the links between poverty, unemployment and road safety, and said that these links were the main reason why rural access and urban mobility must be improved, and costs must be reduced.

African Road Safety Conference
This conference was held in Ghana in 2007, organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN Economic Commission for Africa. It had been attended by most African countries. Its purpose was to review the progress made by African countries in improving road safety, to mobilise resources for road safety and to prepare for the First UN Global Road Safety Week. The RTMC report elaborated on the Ghana Conference Resolution recommendations and the progress of those recommendations in South Africa. Selected recommendations were improvements in road safety, a commitment to road safety education, and improvement of data collection and management.

The major threats and challenges in traffic management were that unless fatalities (which had already decreased from the figure of 14 317 in 2005/2006 to 13 932 in 2011/2012’s), were addressed even further, the 50% targeted reduction would not be reached by 2015. 

Road Safety Strategy
This strategy would ensure the vision for safe roads in South Africa, its mission being to ensure safe, secure and sustainable roads in South Africa. This strategy would take into consideration the vulnerability of the human body and create a road system that was better able to accommodate the human error. In this strategy, a number of requirements for the RTMC were identified, such as the need to collaborate with other departments, such as Departments of Education and Health, to promote research and to co-ordinate different stake holders. The Decade of Action for Road Safety, launched on 11 May 2011, required a “Safe System” approach, which included safer road users, safer travel speeds, safer roads and roadsides and safer vehicles.    

The Pillars of the Decade of Action
The five pillars of the Decade of Action 2011 to 2020, elaborated upon on the report, were road safety management, safer roads and mobility, safer vehicles, safer road users and post crash responses. The pillars focused on a variety of strategies on which RTMC had worked, such as twelve officials trained at Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC), one senior official, who had been trained by the FBI in the US, on Anti Corruption techniques, annual conferences, using international Road Assessments, advertising campaigns, safer vehicles, and other strategies.

Co-ordination and Implementation
Under this topic, the main issues raised were around safety, traffic management, enforcement, legislation issues and implementation of plans. There was heavy emphasis on the fact that all programmes must be audited, monitored and evaluated.

Results of implementation
The RTMC evaluation to date had shown that there was indeed stronger co-ordination and harmonisation, effective monitoring and evaluation, and that there was a small, but significant, year on year reduction in offence and causality figures. 

Challenges and threats
The report noted that the main challenges were lack of resources, lack of 24-hour traffic surveillance, lack of HR capacity, fraud and corruption, and some disputes around the views of so called “road safety experts.”

In conclusion, the RTMC placed an emphasis on education about road safety, and the need for collaboration to have an integrated strategy, and political and financial support.

Mr R Tau (ANC Northern Cape) commented that the presentation had started positively, but he doubted, by the end, whether all of this was achievable. The RTMC had emphasised financial constraints, which would impact the implementation of what RTMC wanted to achieve. However, he thought that perhaps to much emphasis was placed on this point; there were many things that could be implemented using only small resources. In addition, alcohol was said to be one of the key drivers of accidents on the roads. Mr Tau, despite having been driving for years, could not remember when last he had been stopped and tested for alcohol levels, so he could not understand why this was included in the programme of action. He asked to what extent there had been valuable cooperation, particularly with the departments of Education, and whether RTMC had the capacity to carry this through. In the old schooling systems, learners would be taken out of the school premises, and be taught about road safety on the roads, with practical examples, and were also able to acquire their driving licences whilst at school.

Mr Tau noted the comment that a senior official had been trained by the FBI, asked why only one official had been trained and why it was necessary to approach the FBI for training, when South Africa had its own internal intelligence capacity. He commented that it was not surprising that the FBI knew so much about South Africa if the country would invite them and voluntarily open up everything, even to the point where it became vulnerable. He commented that trainees would be returning to operate in South Africa and he questioned whether RTMC was sure that its information would be protected.

Finally, Mr Tau commented on misuse of the Sotho language in the term “Operation Sidagwa’.

The Chairperson also asked if there was any proper consultation done with regard to the FBI, saying that this point must be clarified so that the Committee was fully aware of what the implications were.

Mr M Jacobs (ANC, Free State) said that he would not mince his words, because of the importance of these issues to humans. He felt that whilst the presentation was well done, it was rather too academic, and it was vital that its implementation and impact be seen and felt on the streets. He too commented on the emphasis placed on lack of funding, but said that basic steps were needed, such as tackling poor roads, corruption and unsafe vehicles. He agreed with Mr Tau that there was not enough screening of people for alcohol use, which indicated lack of urgency and seriousness. He thought that surely technology was possible that could, for instance, not allow a car to start if the driver was intoxicated. He also commented that there remained the problem that people were able to bribe their way into getting a licence, and this was also a cause of accidents. He commented that research had highlighted the days and times when most accidents occurred and he wondered why RTMC would not hire temporary staff to cover those periods. Traffic officers’ contracts should specify that they must work shifts, and only in Western Cape were they still visible on the roads after 5pm. He commented that the high-risk roads had been identified but asked what exactly was being done about them. He was adamant on the urgency of combating corruption. He agreed that it was useful to establish links with the departments of Education but said that the mere fact of having a driver’s licence did not mean that the driver was educated. He emphasised in conclusion, that more action and less talk was needed.

Ms M Themba (ANC Mpumalanga) thought the comments on the Millennium Development Goals could have been put into context and specific examples given of how RTMC would address the issues. She noted a brief reference, but no expansion, upon the comment on empowerment of women. There was no indication of where and how the Ghana conference resolutions were being implemented. She commented also that Members of this Committee represented the different provinces yet the presentation did not specify which province was referred to. She emphasised that it would be regrettable if these resolutions were implemented in Gauteng alone, as the people of the rural areas needed to be covered as well.

Mr D Feldman (DA, Gauteng) interrupted to state that Gauteng was also a province.

Ms Themba continued her questions. She asked if the research had already been done, or was yet to start. She wanted clarity on which committees would be given reports, and emphasised that the RTMC report must cite specific incidents per province.

Mr Z Mlenzana (COPE, Eastern Cape) agreed with Ms Themba’s comments that the report was too generalised and vague, and said that this presentation seemed to be geared more to the Portfolio than the Select Committee, and did not address the specifics as they related to provinces. This undermined the Committee, as it needed to hold people in the provinces accountable. If not, then it meant that RTMC was sitting with unreliable information. He commented that the remarks about the challenges of recruitment and accountability of provinces seemed to indicate that  RTMC was toothless, which begged the question why it was in existence. He also asked if it had the capacity to achieve what was set out.

He referred to earlier remarks about the need to have traffic officers present 24 hours a day, and said that this was surely something to be dealt with in the conditions of employment; paying overtime would take up too many resources, so the contracts had to be re-examined to cater for shifts. He asked how many officers were visible, say for every 200 km, on the roads. He, like Ms Themba, wanted more detail on the Ghana conference, particularly the recommendation, and the RTMC’s own strategies, to develop rural roads, and asked when and how this would happen. He wanted to know who the “key stakeholders” were, as mentioned in the presentation, and asked how RTMC would build cooperation with the taxi councils, and how regularly it was attempting to do this. RTMC also spoke about involvement of other spheres of government, and he questioned to what extent SALGA was involved, as also the local and district municipalities. Finally, he commented that rather than having a united democratic South Africa, there seemed to be a federal and fragmented system.

Mr H Groenewald (DA North West) asked how South Africa compared to the rest of Africa in its figures for road fatalities. He wondered if there were any links between good or bad roads, and numbers of deaths, noting that many of the major accidents were on the major roads. He wondered when most of the accidents occurred, and said some road tallies seemed to improve, but others to worsen. It was mentioned that there were1 200 to 1 400 deaths “on the roads” during the festive season, but 30 to 40 daily, and he wondered if this report also covered those who died later, as a result of their injuries. He also questioned the Ghana conference, asking where the next meeting would be and who would be involved; he was particularly interested in whether it would include politicians, and, if so which, and whether the Select Committee could be involved. He wanted clarity on the success rate for the RTMC campaigns, and what was done with the information derived from those campaigns. He also questioned what was done with vehicles removed from the road, and whether drivers found over the limit were allowed to drive. He questioned why the 24-hour coverage was not working in other provinces than the Western Cape, and what RTMC was doing to put pressure on the provinces. He commented that in North West, the weighbridges were not effective, despite costing millions of rands. Finally, he reiterated other members’ concerns about involving the FBI, saying that often South Africans were used to get cheap information on South Africa.

The Chairperson commented that Members had asked some very stringent questions, yet these were perhaps not sufficient. The report did raise the challenges and threats, but there seemed to be a contradiction in that on the one hand there was an emphasis on lack of resources, but on the other, reference made to political and financial support that could take South Africa far. He asked if RTMC was actively promoting its business plan. He also asked what exactly it was doing to address the shortage of about  17 000 traffic officers. He agreed with Mr Mlenzana’s and Ms Themba’s concerns that this report was not speaking specifically enough to provincial matters. He was concerned that presentations were focusing on the national strategies only and wanted to know more about the specific provinces, to allow the Committee to do a follow-up. He questioned the statement that only two pilots for projects were used, saying that he did not understand what the difficulties were in simply making the project work. He also asked what was being done to address the problems with the licensing centres.
Overall, the Chairperson felt that the report was so contradictory in many respects that it was not clear what exactly RTMC wanted from this Committee.

The Chairperson called for comment from the RTMC on a recent incident where a driver had been caught on camera knocking into a runner, getting out of the car and assaulting the runner, saying that no response or statement had been issued on this serious matter, despite the fact that it should be the first to respond. He commented that a statement was made that HIV and AIDS were often spread through accidents, but said RTMC had not given a solution, nor said what programmes were offered to educate truck drivers. According to Pillar 1 (Safety and Management), there were twelve officials trained, but it was not stated if this was done nationally, or if they were deployed to the provinces, and if the latter did not happen, then the question arose how RTMC was intending to implement in the rest of the country. Finally, he shared concerns about the involvement of the FBI and said that full details would be needed.

Mr Mlenzana noted that the cover page of the presentation made mention of the Portfolio Committee as well as the Select Committee, and therefore criticised the presentation as a mere cut and paste.

Other Members checked this and expressed their extreme dissatisfaction. The Chairperson said this told a lot about RTMC and where it was going.

Ms Mongale said she would firstly ask her colleague, Mr Ashraf Ismail, Executive Manager: Enforcement, RTMC, to respond to some of the questions.

Ms Themba interrupted to say that before hearing from Mr Ismail, the Committee wanted to hear Ms Mongale’s explanation on the cover page; if this presentation was not geared specifically to the Select Committee, it should not have heard it.

Ms Mongale responded that the correspondence relating to the meeting mentioned that the subject matter was Road Safety Interventions, and that was the main focus of the presentation. She apologised for the mistake on the cover page of the hard copies, but said that the Power Point presentation in fact had corrected that. She agreed that the RTMC did report to the Portfolio Committee on Transport, and this presentation spoke to how RTMC would fulfil its mandate although it was presently being assisted to do so, having experienced difficulties in the past, with oversight from that Committee.

Mr Jacobs thought Ms Mongale was lying to the Committee, and said that the document was indeed a cut and paste effort. It would have been more appropriate for her to apologise, not make excuses. RTMC may respond to the Portfolio Committee, but it was also supposed to report to this Select Committee, which was part of Parliament, not an after-thought.

Ms L Mabija (ANC Limpopo) was disappointed that she was now hearing this, and commented that in her view, the Committee should adjourn the meeting.

Mr Feldman agreed with Ms Mabija.

The Chairperson told Ms Mongale that the Committee could well have dismissed her, after detecting that the presentation was not geared specifically to the needs of this Committee, but appealed to Members to allow the meeting to continue. He noted that Ms Mongale should learn to apologise where she had erred. He explained that departments and institutions had to account to both houses in Parliament, and in future she should not undermine or discount the work of the Select Committee.

Ms Mabija completely disagreed with the Chairperson and felt that the meeting should not continue. She made the point that the Select Committee was not meeting because it was curious, but should be getting information clearly directed to Members, to guide them in overseeing implementation in their provinces.

Ms Themba commented that Ms Mongale held an “Acting” appointment, and should be given the benefit of the doubt as to whether she in fact had all the information; in the future the Select Committee should enquire whether the presenter was in possession of all information. The Committee had commented that the report was not entirely relevant because nothing specific to provinces was mentioned. She proposed that the meeting continue, noting that a letter of apology could be given by RTMC.

The Chairperson asked the team from RTMC to ensure that a fully-informed team should be sent on the next occasion. It seemed that RTMC itself was not fully capacitated. The Committee could of course call in the Minister to alert him to the problems.

Adv Mlawu endorsed the apology of RTMC, and agreed that it was critical to allow RTMC to engage with the Committee.

Mr Mlenzana agreed with the Chairperson, but said that getting a letter of apology would not be as important as getting something that would directly speak to the provincial matters. He agreed that the Committee should continue, on the understanding that both a letter of apology, and a corrected document, must be sent through.

Mr Ismail firstly dealt with the comments on the FBI, stating that the RTMC team of executives and managers had international relations with a number of countries, such as India, China and Australia, and that it was on this context that RTMC had been invited to participate in a law enforcement exercise, with all-expenses paid benefits, and RTMC had therefore taken advantage of this. If the Chairperson wanted full report on this, it would be made available.

Mr Ismail agreed that alcohol was a huge problem in South Africa, and the Medical Research Council had indicated that most accidents on the road were due to the use of alcohol before driving. There were other challenges that RTMC had faced, such as the High Court decision that the equipment being used was not in compliance with South Africa’s legislation, which required RTMC now to ensure that it corrected its methods. It was working tirelessly to ensure that law enforcement was dealt with decisively. At the moment, it would generally take two police officers about two and a half hours to the roads where offences were detected, because the enforcement division had been forced to revert back to the old fashioned strategies, owing to the High Court’s decision. RTMC would continue on the focus on the issue of alcohol and try to achieve better results.

Mr Ismail noted that there was a national report dealing with the 24-hour coverage, the number of accidents and special incidents, as well as monthly reports. Although this was issued under the title of a “national” document, it in fact gave breakdowns  by province, and this would be sent through to the committee. The Western Cape has indeed been successful in the implementation of the 24/7 plan, and the RTMC would now adopt this strategy in other provinces. Officers would be on shift, and rotating their shifts over evenings and weekends, so that RTMC would not have to pay overtime. He commented that most of the crashes happened between 19:00 and 23:00, pointing to a need for increased visibility at this time of the night. The Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga were working on strategies to increase visibility on the roads, and the RTMC supported the strategy that would work for each province. There was also a list of the hazardous roads in South Africa, and 90% fatalities happened when the officers were not on the road. A full report about the occurrences in specific provinces would be given at the next meeting.

Ms Themba interjected to state that this report could not wait that long, and the report should be given within fourteen days, as Committee Members wanted to deal with the matters urgently.

Mr Ismail agreed. Mr Ismail reiterated that a full report on the specific incidents per province would be given to the Committee. It specified the numbers of crashes occurring in specific provinces, with a monthly report also. This would clarify also the role and function of the RTMC. He commented that if the strategies could be introduced immediately, they may help to avert high accident rates over the Easter period. RTMC did engage with the provinces, and attempted always to consult so that it did not follow a “top down” approach, but it would often happen that provinces did not report back.

Mr Ismail said that concerns about the weighbridges were well-founded. Often they did not work for reasons that were quite simple, such as the municipality not having paid an electricity bill and being cut off, or even management issues.

Mr Ismail said that RTMC stakeholders did include the taxi councils, with whom it had good working relationships.

Mr Ismail noted the questions as to whether RTMC had capacity and could reach the targets. RTMC was very upfront that if it continued along the current trajectory it would not achieve the target for 50% reduction by 2013. The National Rolling Programme was achieving reductions from year to year, and there were many different agencies all over South Africa that had the task of enforcing road safety. RTMC had to ensure coherence and an integrated vision.

Mr Ismail addressed the questions on accountability, saying that sometimes the need to follow democratic principles could undermine accountability, so all the parties involved in road safety needed to understand their specific roles. There were attempts to bring the departments of Education on board, but it must be recognised that road safety was only one of several equally important competing priorities in South Africa. Many social problems needed to be addressed at school levels. However, having said that, RTMC believed that road safety should not be regarded merely as an extra activity in the school, but should be elevated to a formal and examinable subject. Given the difficulties in doing this at present, RTMC was using other smart ways to raise the problems, such as getting five minutes during a school assembly to talk to the learners about road safety.

Mr Ismail agreed that corruption was undermining the good work done but the anti-corruption unit had made progress in finding and eliminating cases of corruption in the law enforcement, including making arrests of its own officers.

Mr Ismail suggested that it would be useful if the Select Committee could be invited to RTMC, to see, first hand, the type of matters with which it was dealing.

Mr Ismail said that it was quite difficult to determine hw South Africa compared to the rest of the world, but it was somewhere between the top five and top twelve in terms of road fatalities. He noted that there was not always a link between accidents and poor roads. Some accidents occurred simply through human error, but RTMC did not deny that poor roads had their fair share of problems that led to fatalities. He noted that RTMC emphasised deaths, but that for every fatality there were likely to be ten injuries.

Mr Ismail said that when school learners were being transported, there were regulations that required the vehicle to be sanctioned and approved under road safety programmes, and parents were supposed to be told of the driver’s contact details.

Ms Mongale said and said that HIV testing and diabetes testing was done for vehicle drivers, which helped to curb the spread of and effect of these diseases. In relation to the comments about gender issues, she noted that RTMC would ensure that female officers, especially when they were pregnant, were appropriately placed so that there was less chance of threats on duty. She confirmed that whilst the issues were being addressed, there was more that needed to be done to celebrate women. Women in communities were asked to participate in the teaching of road safety on the community.

Ms Mongale addressed the questions on funding. She said that financial support and political power went hand in hand. It had been a very painful process for RTMC to get funding, and it had made several proposals to a number of funders, but without success.

Adv Mlawu concluded that engagement and consultation was very important. Many of the provinces were not cooperating, so he was particularly grateful for the opportunity to present to Members who were directly involved with provincial accountability. About R40 billion was spent on the end result of fatal accidents and this must be turned around so that prevention was the key, rather than addressing matters after the event.

Mr Jacobs still had concerns about the 24/7 shift system and suggested that the heads of Departments in the Provinces must be called to account. He was, however, impressed with what was being achieved with cameras.

Ms Themba asked for comment on the language issue raised by Mr Tau.

Ms Mongale said this would be corrected.

Ms Mongale added that there was engagement by RTMC with rural areas, through rural programmes, with the best implementers being from Kwazulu-Natal.

The Chairperson reminded RTMC that the Committee could summon provinces and hold them accountable. He reminded RTMC that the letter of apology and full report must be sent to the Committee within fourteen days. 

Other Business: Adoption of First term Programme
The Chairperson tabled the first term Committee Programme.

Mr Jacobs noted that the programme for today’s meeting had noted that SAPS and Arrive Alive would also present.

The Chairperson explained that in some cases, RTMC, SAPS and Arrive Alive were clustered together. He suggested that the specific reference to the other two bodies be removed.

Mr Mlenzana noted that the President, during the State of the Nation Address, suggested more focus on checking the implementation trends for the provinces and nationally.

Members adopted the programme, subject to this amendment.

Adoption of minutes
Mr Jacobs said, in relation to the minutes of 28 November 2012, that there were some outstanding issues that must be referred to management.

The minutes of 28 November 2012 and 04 December 2012 were adopted, subject to minor grammatical changes.

The meeting was adjourned.


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