Here's how much quieter SA's roads are this year – and fewer people are dying in accidents

Business Insider SA
Festive season traffic December South Africa
(Photo by Gallo Images/Sharon Seretlo)
  • Traffic volumes have decreased by up to 27% on South Africa’s major highways between 1 December and 20 December, according to the National Roads Agency.
  • But road fatalities only fell by 5.7% during the same period in 2019.
  • And the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo have seen increases in road fatalities.
  • Almost 100,000 fines have been issued and more than 4,000 unroadworthy vehicles removed from road as part of a festive season crackdown.
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Tighter Covid-19 regulations amid a growing second wave, associated health concerns and a household cash crunch have resulted in fewer holidaymakers hitting the road this December. While this may have eased traffic congestion on major highways and decreased the frequency of accidents, preliminary festive season statistics delivered by the department of transport paint a grim picture.

During the 2019 festive season, 1,617 people were killed on South Africa’s roads. Approximately 45% these fatalities occurred between 1 December and 20 December. In 2020, this number decreased by 5.7%, with 690 deaths recorded by the festive season’s midway point.

“This is no reason to celebrate,” noted Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula during his public release of the road safety statistics on Tuesday 22 December. “One life lost on our roads is one life too many.”

The marginal decrease in festive season road deaths can be attributed to the great decline in traffic volumes over the same period. Although Mbalulua commented that roads were “fairly busy” during the first half of December, with the N1 highway between Gauteng and Limpopo recording an average of 2,439 vehicles per hour throughout the period, traffic has generally been much quieter compared to the 2019 rush.

“In general traffic volumes are lower on the rural parts of our network for the same period [1 December to 20 December] when comparing 2019 to 2020,” explained Louw Kannemeyer, engineering executive for the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral).

“The reduction in traffic volumes ranges between -16% and -27% on our major national highways.”

While Kannemeyer added that urban travel – defined as short-distance movement within cities and suburbs – had remained equal to volumes experienced in 2019, Mbalula focused on fatal collisions which had occurred on the country’s major highways because of reckless driving.

This is especially true for highways in three provinces – the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo – which have all witnessed an increase in fatalities.

The Eastern Cape experienced a 21.5% rise in road deaths, Limpopo and Mpumalanga recorded increases of 18.4% and 15.9% respectively. Worryingly, these increases contrast directly with decreased traffic volumes along rural routes, noted by Kannemeyer, which dominate these provinces.

Chief Executive Officer of the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), Makhosini Msibi, who flanked Mbalula during Tuesday’s press briefing, explained that fatigue, driving under the influence of alcohol and reckless single-lane overtaking were to blame for the increase in fatalities in these provinces.

“A number of people have been crisscrossing the provinces,” said Msibi. “They’re going back home [after the lockdown period] and the excitement has also added to [increased recklessness].”

Mbalula said that his department was hoping to cut road fatalities by 20% during this year’s festive period through intensified law enforcement operations. An around-the-clock crackdown on unroadworthy vehicles and unlicensed drivers has netted thousands of arrests.

Almost 110,000 motorists have been issued with fines, while over 4,000 vehicles have been removed from South Africa’s roads.

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