by Dr Lee Randall an independent road safety researcher and co-founder of the Road Ethics Project 

Globally, young people aged 5-29 – especially males – are the most likely to die in road crashes. This is very concerning in Africa where an extremely high proportion of the population is made up of young people. 

This continent has an especially bad road death rate: 27 out of every 100,000 Africans die due to road crashes. This is in contrast with the best-performing European region where only 7 out of every 100,000 people die due to road crashes. Put plainly, in 2019 there were 18 Africans for every 10 Europeans, but 43 Africans died on the roads for every 10 Europeans who died the same way.  

South Africa is often seen as having good roads and road safety, but is actually not too far below the African average – the 2021 road death rate was 22 out of every 100,000 people. Concerningly, around 40% of those who die on South Africa’s roads are pedestrians, including high numbers of children and adolescents. 

The third Sunday in November is the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, under the slogan #RememberSupportAct. This makes it clear that apart from remembering and grieving for those who have died and been injured, and supporting affected families and communities, we must act to prevent further road crashes, loss and heartache. In 2021, the same date was declared as Africa Road Safety Day

The fact that the world still loses about 1.3 million people on the roads every year is a disaster. It’s a tragedy, because so-called “accidents” are largely predictable and preventable. And those that cannot be prevented can at least be optimised – i.e. made less severe, less likely to kill people or cause life-changing injuries.

Innovative road safety model 

The Safe System model of road safety is as old as South Africa’s democracy, dating back to the mid-1990s. It’s now recognised by most countries and features in our National Road Safety Strategy. This model shows exactly how roads can be designed and used in a way which makes them safe for all, down to the most vulnerable users like young children, women, people with disabilities, the elderly and all non-motorised travellers (pedestrians and cyclists). 

Yet, without political will and proper budgets and practitioners to implement it, the Safe System model stays in the realm of theory rather than becoming our daily, lived reality. Traditional road safety strategies without a system-wide approach persist in their strong focus on individual human behaviour, despite this being but one of multiple factors involved in road crashes.

A burnt out minibus taxi. (by Lee Randall)

It looks great to gather a group of children together and teach them about road safety, for instance, and perhaps even provide them with reflective clothing or arrange scholar patrols and pedestrian crossings at their schools. 

However, this can be an ineffective use of resources as true safety – widespread safety for everyone, everywhere – goes a lot further than that. If the broader environment features roads without pavements and pedestrian refuges; does not provide measures (eg: bollards, high curbs) to separate vulnerable people from fast-moving vehicles; sets speed limits which are lethal by design; or features poorly maintained and potholed roads, neither children nor adults will be optimally safe. 

In the same way, if driving licences can be bought and traffic police can be bribed; roadworthy certificates can be fraudulently acquired and panel vans converted illegally to minibus taxis continue plying the streets (despite government pledging to remove them), safety will continue having low priority within the system.  

Apart from offering training on the Safe System model, the Road Ethics Project promotes the Vision Zero philosophy. This is a paradigm shift for societies which have come to accept road deaths and serious injuries as inevitable in our car-centric existence – “sort of another road toll which we pay in order to have fast, convenient and comfortable travel”. 

Recognising road heroes

Although the current era demands systems thinking, it is still appropriate to recognise the roles played by individuals from all walks of life in relation to road safety.  The Road Ethics Project does this by offering an annual Road Heroes Award. 

Road Ethics Project co-founders, the late Thami Radebe and Lee Randall

This was renamed the Thami Radebe Road Heroes Award in 2022 in memory of a Project co-founder who passed away due to a brain tumour in 2021. Thami Radebe was a Soweto resident and a man with a disability who helped with my PhD research into minibus taxi crashes. He was passionate about awakening people – especially the youth – to the risks we encounter every day on South Africa’s roads, and what we can do about them. 

The first Road Heroes Award was given out in 2019, co-designed by Thami Radebe, me and the Project’s other co-founder Eugene Herbert. The inaugural winner was Ari Seirlis, a well-known disability activist and the visionary behind the road safety messaging of the QuadPara Association (QASA), “Buckle Up – We Don’t Want New Members”. In 2020 the award was suspended due to the Covid pandemic, and in 2021 it was suspended due to Thami’s unexpected passing. 

In 2022 we re-launched the Award and it was won by the well-known Advocate Johan Jonck of Arrive Alive. We also had a runner-up, Caroline Rule, an occupational therapist with a special interest in driving with a disability and expertise in assessing driving safety.    

The closing date for nominations for the 2023 Thami Radebe Road Heroes Award is approaching rapidly, on November 24th. There is a R5,000 cash prize for the winner and in 2023, for the first time, there is also a goodie bag lucky draw for those who submit nominations. 

To be nominated as a road hero someone should have dedicated visible effort to the road safety cause; and/or assisted people affected by road crashes; and/or shown leadership to reduce road traffic injuries, disabilities and deaths. – Health-e News

This year’s winner will be announced on December 15th. 


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