Transport Month commenced yesterday with numerous planned initiatives and sizeable investment by Government. Can this well-intentioned cornerstone of the transport calendar play a role in transforming South Africa’s road infrastructure into a more affordable, accessible and safer transport system for the country? Transport Month was first launched in October 2005. It seeks to raise awareness of the important role of transport in the economy, and to invite participation from civic society and business in garnering change. Transformation that is now more necessary than ever. According to Dipuo Peters at last month’s 3rd Africa Road Safety Seminar in Cape Town, the 2010 World Health Organisation Global Report on Road Safety indicates that every year around 1.3 million people are killed and another 50 million are injured on roads worldwide. A similar report released in 2013 shows that there has been no significant improvement in road safety. The figures for road crashes stand at 1.24 million in 2013 compared to 1.3 million in 2010. “The 2013 report points out that injuries sustained in road traffic crashes remain the leading cause of death for young people aged between 15 and 29 years old. The report further indicates that for every road traffic fatality at least 20 people sustain non-fatal injuries, resulting in an increased burden to the health care system.” Peters continued, “A remarkable observation is the large disparities in road traffic death rates between regions. The risk of dying as a result of a road crash is highest in the African region (which is 24.1 deaths per 100,000 population) and the lowest in the European region (which is 10.3 deaths per 100,000 population). According to the WHO, 92% of the world’s road traffic deaths in 2010 occurred in 87 lower income countries.” Here at home, The Road Traffic Management Corporation estimates that road accidents cost South Africa approximately R307 billion every year and in 2011 there were 27.58 fatalities for every 100 000 South Africans. The National Household Transport Survey 2013 indicates that the percentage of car ownership has risen from 22.9% in 2003 to 32.6% in 2013. This increase has a direct impact on traffic congestion and presents a higher risk for road accidents. The Transport Minister also made it clear that the introduction of mobile applications and related ICT technologies to enable safer mobility has become a necessity and a reality in South Africa. Ms. Peters highlighted the importance of smartphone GPS technology in allowing for the early detection of road incidents, the subsequent deployment of emergency services and empowering drivers to anticipate road incidents and avoid congestion. Tracker’s Commercial Director, Michael Nieuwoudt, says, “Advancement in vehicle safety technology is happening at lightning pace. Even though adoption in South Africa has taken some time it is now reaching critical mass. We are, in fact, among the leaders globally in the race to achieve near-total technology-led road safety. The immediate focus, though, is on minimising the risk of serious accidents." Peters then ran through the numbers in her address. The Department commitments to reduce road crashes can be summed up as follows: • R9.3 billion over 2014/15 and R9.9 billion over 2015/16 for road infrastructure upgrade that would ensure better quality and thus safer roads • R580 million for administration and enforcement of road traffic legislation, to the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA) over the period 2014/15 to 2016/17 With a substantial and justified allocation to administration and infrastructure, what about the common denominator and missing cog in the wheel? The driver. Would all this expenditure be necessary if driver behaviour remained the root of the problem? Nieuwoudt continues, “We are already seeing technology impacting driving behaviours for the better. Intelligent data management is now enabling key players, in South Africa and beyond, to pre-empt and predict unsafe driving.” “For example, in-car GPS tracking equipment monitors braking, acceleration, cornering and speed with a direct feedback loop informing the driver where improvements can be made from a safety perspective. Incident reporting and assistance is also automated, taking some of the strain off administration. The ability to have insurance premiums reduced is a great incentive for safer driving, too.” Finally, the Minister made reference to the bigger picture; “In order to curb the fatalities and injuries due to road crashes, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution that proclaimed a Decade of Action for Road Safety. The goal of the Decade of Action (2011-2020) is to stabilise and reduce the increasing trend in road traffic fatalities so as to save an estimated 5 million lives over the decade.” Commitment by Government to meet these goals and put a sustainable framework in place is unquestioned, if plans are anything to go by. However, business and civic society now need to step up and facilitate the human element required to reduce road deaths. The technology exists for real change, let’s hope that during the 2014 Transport Month this doesn’t fall on deaf ears. By GJ Russell at 15 Oct 2014