Engineering road safety

September 4, 2018
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How do we create safer roads? The road safety workshop at the 2018 Southern African Transport Conference tried to find some answers by looking at certain initiatives by the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral).

In 2016 the cost of road crashes in South Africa was calculated at R143 billion per annum – or 3,4 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Sanral’s Randall Cable said that, of that year’s
832 000 crashes, just under 52 000 were fatal or caused serious injuries and, despite this number accounting for only six percent of the total, they cost R90 billion… In addition, up to 40 percent of fatalities are pedestrians.

Those are some seriously scary statistics! Cable is of the opinion we need to be pragmatic about the situation if we are to reverse this trend.

“We must stop thinking we can stop all crashes – it’s not possible, but we can look at the environment to see how to mitigate and reduce the risk of fatality and serious injury. This is where we can make a significant difference,” he said, adding that Sanral has invested heavily in engineering interventions over the past eight years, especially with regard to pedestrian safety.

“Pedestrians are a vulnerable group of road users. Since 2011, Sanral has retrofitted solutions to 160 locations, making it safer for those on foot to cross roads. Locations with high volumes of pedestrians and high-speed vehicles are obvious places for intervention…”

Cable added that Sanral is embracing the role of technology and innovation to boost its ability to leapfrog the backlog in road-safety interventions. However, he also noted that road-safety audits need to be implemented if the problem is to be truly overcome.

“A road-safety audit is essentially a proactive way of influencing the infrastructure, through various projects, to meets the needs of all road users. It promotes a culture of road safety among the designers; a safe-systems philosophy.”

However, despite creating a road-safety audit policy to be used by all road authorities, Cable stated that Sanral has not implemented road-safety audits since 1998. “This is because we have feared liability, due to recommendations not being implemented… It is, however, something we are serious about and there will be a lot more coming as we work through future projects,” Cable noted.

Deon Roux of the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) suggested that South Africa’s road-safety audit processes must be formalised.

“Even on Sanral’s roads the small things can still make huge differences. While the Sanral roads are beautiful, by contrast the provincial roads are just scary when it comes to road safety,” he said.

Roux stated that, while driver and passenger fatalities are decreasing, those of pedestrians are increasing. “Crashes should not result in death or injury. Correct engineering can make a difference; due to poor human behaviour we need to ensure that we create the most forgiving roads possible.”

“We need to stop building new problems…” added Kobus Labuschange, of the Gauteng Department of Transport.

Considering that, according to Roux, the cost of road crashes in 2017 had risen to R162 billion, or 3,48 percent of the country’s GDP, that’s one warning worth heeding…

My life has always revolved around anything with wheels and an engine. It doesn’t matter if its an old banger, the latest hot-hatch or a fancy 4×4 – any excuse is a good excuse to take it for a cruise, spank it at the track or go bundu-bashing (the mud-and-rocks-side-of-a-mountain type, not the exploring-Joburg’s-pavements type). Otherwise, chances are you’ll find me lying underneath one of my beloved toys or with my head buried in its engine bay, tinkering away.

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