There was a 10% drop in road deaths over the festive season, transport minister Fikile Mbalula announced on Thursday. This means that 1,617 people died compared to the 1,789 deaths recorded over the same December 1 to January 15 holiday period in 2018/2019.

Fatal collisions fell by only 3% but there was a major reduction in the number of crashes with five or more fatalities. 

At a press conference in Pretoria, Mbalula said the reduced death toll met the department’s annual 10% target, which he attributed to an intensified Arrive Alive campaign. But much more needed to be done to meaningfully reduce road carnage, he added.

“A decade ago, we made an unwavering commitment as a party to the UN decade of action for road safety to reduce road fatalities and injuries by 50% by 2020. Regrettably, very little progress has been made towards the realisation of this goal,” he said. According to the Road Traffic Management Corporation 13,967 people died on SA’s roads in 2010, compared to 12,921 in 2018.  The 2019 total was not yet available.

“The carnage on our roads remains unacceptably high. The number of people who lose life and limb on our roads is alarming and the [annual] cost to the economy is in excess of R168bn,” said Mbalula.  This reality had spurred his department to reimagine safety on SA’s roads, including the launch of a 365-days action agenda in October 2019, which executed a more high-profile Arrive Alive campaign.

“This was underpinned by highly visible integrated law enforcement operations, stakeholder participation, effective communications and road safety activations. We even employed guerrilla tactics by conducting operations at places and times when those motorists likely to violate the law least expected us.”

Roadblocks conducted nationwide increased from 775 to 1,924 and the number of vehicles stopped and checked over the festive period increased from 1.3-million to 1.5-million compared to the previous period a year ago.  A total of 9,414 motorists were arrested. Traffic fines were issued to 573,147 motorists, a notable reduction of 191,862 from the year before as a result of increased compliance by motorists.

Pedestrians continued to top the list at 40% of road deaths, followed by passengers (34%), drivers (25%) and cyclists (1%). Mbalula said 85 people, including traffic officers, vehicle testing station staff, and ordinary motorists were arrested on charges of bribery, fraud and forgery.

SA remains one of the world’s most dangerous countries to drive in. It is listed 13th out of 195 countries by number of road deaths per capita, with an alarming 28.2 road deaths per 100,000, population according to a study released earlier in January by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. 

It revealed that SA’s roads were far more dangerous than those of countries like Singapore, which topped the list as the safest country with just 3.53 deaths per 100,000 people. The research found those most likely to be injured in collisions were men 25 to 29 years old, and that accident rates in that demographic were twice as common as among women of the same age.