Traffic on Johannesburg’s N1 North. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Traffic on Johannesburg’s N1 North. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

Discussion is heating up on how to take the country out of lockdown in phases that balance the need to counter the spread of Covid-19 with restarting the economy to prevent a national catastrophe. There will have to be trade-offs, but one area where we now know lives can definitely be saved is in road safety, which remains an ever-present threat to health services and the economy.

The return to normal times will mean a return to many other dangers from which the lockdown have shielded the country. These include murders, robberies and alcohol-related crime, but especially traffic accidents, which cost SA an average of R163bn annually, together with almost 32 fatalities per 1,000 people in 2018, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Many of the dead are children.

The deadly onset of Covid 19 has caused many to forget how socially and economically damaging traffic accidents are in SA, which has one of the highest rates of road accidents in the world. This state of affairs is one the country simply cannot afford, especially in the immediate future when health services will be burdened by the pandemic and the economy severely weakened.

Road transport is vital in Africa as it is a key factor driving sustainable development. Safer road transport has multifaceted benefits and special relevance in Africa’s efforts to expand regional economic integration and implement the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which has much potential to deliver the economic growth the continent needs now more than ever.

The World Bank’s Global Road Safety Facility (GRSF), together with the Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative for Global Road Safety (BIGRS), produced research that estimated countries could have 7%-22% additional increase in GDP per capita over two decades if they halved road traffic deaths and injuries. SA has one of the highest rates of road accidents and fatalities globally, especially relating to the age group of five to 29 years, so this is low-hanging economic fruit.

The vehicle sector in its broader context has also become one of the most important in the SA economy and a key factor behind moves towards an African vehicle sector. This helps underline the growing relevance of vehicles in Africa, where the sector is intrinsic to the move towards regionally integrated economies with safe transport corridors and sustainable urban hubs.

The SA government has adopted a National Road Safety Strategy as a key programme for reducing fatal crashes by 50% by 2030, and several stakeholders are putting in a lot of effort to achieve that goal. Stakeholder partnerships remain crucial, and one of the spin-offs of the Covid-19 crisis is the improved co-ordination between the public and private sectors, with both acknowledging the relevance of the other. Hopefully, this is something that will continue, and expand into the future to promote the national interest. BIGRS-GRSF identified partnerships involving business with the public sector to be a key factor for improving road safety.

The Swiss-based Global Road Safety Partnership (RSP), a non-profit organisation, has achieved international recognition by facilitating stakeholder partnerships between business, governments, development agencies and civil society organisations.

The World Economic Forum mobility platform has also facilitated partnerships as a core mechanism to deliver “a platform where business leaders can partner with policymakers to develop a global mobility system that is safe, clean and inclusive”. It has worked with the International Automobile Federation and the GRSP in launching a road safety partnership in India. Supported by many companies and international associations, this used the RSP to facilitate increased public-private collaboration in accelerating India’s own initiatives to improve road safety.

Such examples of co-operation relating to international programmes for road safety illustrate that the amplification of efforts is possible. In many cases, partnerships between stakeholders with vested interests in an improved situation are especially effective, and an increased realisation of the rationale for urgent improved road safety underlines the true extent of co-operation required. The gains are considerable.

The Covid-19 crisis in SA has seen laudable expanded co-operation between the public and private sectors along with other stakeholders. Hopefully, such commitment can continue after the crisis to strengthen partnership-based strategies for other SA challenges. GRSP SA deputy chair Eugene Herbert recently endorsed this sentiment and underlined that improving road safety must become a priority. He noted the track record of the GRSP globally in this regard, based on facilitated stakeholder partnerships, and that GRSP SA remains committed to being a meaningful co-partner.

The future will result in many aspects of daily life being adjusted to align with the “new normal”. Among these should be that SA accords due relevance to mobility safety as a key factor for sustainable wellbeing and growth.

• Dr Maré is an adviser on international public affairs and diplomacy.

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