Everybody who gets into a car, whether driver or passenger, is at risk of death. It’s just a fact. Road accidents are part of the system of modern life, as people commute from one destination to another.

Every year, road traffic accidents claim the lives of around 1.3 million individuals around the world. Moreover, between 20 to 50 million people suffer from non-fatal injuries due to such accidents, and many of them end up with disabilities as a result of their injuries. This is according to the World Health Organization.

The impact is far beyond stoppage of traffic, the immediate need for emergency services and police intervention to redirect vehicles.

Huge economic loss

Road traffic accidents lead to significant economic losses for individuals, their families, and nations. These losses are due to the expenses incurred during treatment and the loss of productivity for the individuals killed or disabled by the accidents. Family members also need to take time off from work or school to take care of the injured, which leads to further loss of productivity. Road traffic crashes cost most countries approximately 3% of their gross domestic product. This is according to a Road Traffic Injuries report in 2022 compiled by The World Health Organization.

Traffic accidents are a major public health concern worldwide. The National Library of Medicine in the United States, reports that fatal accidents claim about 3,700 lives every day, half of which are cyclists, motorcyclists, or pedestrians.

Many contributing factors

While many assume that alcohol and speed and especially the deadly combination of these factors are the major contributors to road accidents, there are many other influences.

Several factors contribute to traffic accidents, including poor road conditions, reckless driving, fatigue, sleep disorders, driving under the influence, illness, using mobile phones, eating/drinking while driving, not paying attention after a crash, and the inability of other drivers to react quickly to the situation.

In South Africa, road crash fatalities, as well as road fatalities including pedestrians, saw an increase between 2019 and 2021, according to the latest statistics available from The Road Traffic Management Corporation. Last year, 12,545 people died on our roads. That was 25.8% more than 2020 and 0.3% more than 2019, the smaller increase most likely due to Covid.

Pedestrian fatalities on South African roads remain alarmingly high, accounting for 40% of all road users. Of these fatalities, male pedestrians make up 75%. Children between the ages of 0 to 4 account for 17% of the total deaths, while the 25 to 35 age group accounts for 38%. Unsurprisingly, 60% of road fatalities occur over weekends – specifically from Friday to Sunday.

South Africa faces several key challenges that are difficult to overcome. Among these are the proliferation of informal settlements alongside major freeways, inadequate town planning that fails to prioritise non-motorised transport, and a lack of action towards promoting safer vehicles in the country.

Safety comes first

We must prioritise road safety, making our roads safer for all users from pedestrians, bicycles, motorbikes and small cars to taxi buses, municipal buses, trucks and other larger vehicles.

Road traffic injuries and subsequent fatalities can be prevented. It will take strong government initiatives working with the private sector to address road safety in a holistic manner. This will necessitate involvement from multiple sectors such as transport, police, health, education, to reach the hearts and minds of all road users.

Some suggestions include safer infrastructure that will incorporate road safety features into land-use and transport planning, improving the safety features of vehicles; better after-care for accident victims, stricter laws and effective application of them, prioritising risk management and raising public awareness.

At Unitrans, safety is very close to our hearts, and we pride ourselves on recognised achievements in this space over the past months. Unitrans is also a member of Road Safety Partnership South Africa (RSP SA), a registered Section 21 company (NPC) that was established in 2007. The function of RSP SA is to broker partnerships between government, business and civil society to reduce death and injury on the roads in South Africa. RSP SA is part of the international road safety organisation called Global Road Safety Partnership that is based in Geneva, Switzerland, a non-profit organisation formed in 1999 in response to global recognition of road crash deaths and injuries as a human-made crisis.

Unitrans’ commitment to safety and excellence has earned the company the prestigious Rio Tinto Safety Award for Best Global Contract Partner, as well as two awards at the 2023 annual MasterDrive Fleet Safety Awards, taking a win for the Best Employer and Best Company categories for Medium Commercial Vehicles.

In addition, five employees from the Unitrans people transport division made it to the final round of the Hollard Highway Heroes competition for their important role in transporting commuters, promoting driving excellence and in doing so creating safer roads. Gabotlamang Jarius Gabonewe, a 36-year-old Mega Bus driver was the winner in the category of Overall Bus Driver.

Another very proud moment for the company was Cynthia Thala’s historic milestone. The dedicated bulk vehicle operator in our fuel transportation division became the first woman to secure the coveted title of the 2023 #ThankYouTrucker competition.

These accolades underscore our unwavering dedication to safety, adherence to policies and procedures, and innovative approach to enhancing driver safety and performance.

Unitrans remains focused on fostering a culture of safe driving practices and on-road experiences. We believe in the well-being of our drivers to ensure the success of our operations. At Unitrans, safety and innovation are at the core of everything we do. These awards are a testament to our team’s safety track record, hard work and dedication and our commitment to providing the best possible service to our clients.