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SPEECH IN PARLIAMENT by Tommy Abrahams, MP re
Matter of Public Importance: Road Safety 21 October 1999

Madam Speaker,

The carnage on South Africa’s Roads can be as easily politicised as subject like rape, AIDS/HIV or cancer. After all, around 7 000 people have already died on our roads this year – and the Millennium summer holidays are still lying ahead. At the outset I wish to make it clear that my intentions with this debate are to contribute towards bringing matters into perspective and to help towards finding solutions to the debilitating problems attendant on road usage. This takes nothing away from the fact that firm political commitments will have to be made.

The recent spate of accidents, particularly those involving buses, has evoked a public outcry. Wild accusations are being levelled at various categories of road-users, lately the tourist bus industry. While such a reaction can be expected, it will not advance the cause of safer road travel. Rather, a holistic approach should be adopted in pinpointing the root causes of our road-use problems and involving all the stakeholders in arriving at solutions for them. All of us, politicians, vehicle owners, drivers, passengers and pedestrians will have to commit ourselves to Road Safety.

A high incidence of transport death is not an uniquely South African phenomenon. It is estimated that 96% of all transport fatalities worldwide occur on roads. It is, however, a statistical fact that in countries where decisive action is taken the incidence has been dramatically reduced. In Britain, e.g. where the number of cars on the road has increased from 5 million in 1959 to 25 million today, the authorities have succeeded in reducing road fatalities to 10 persons per day. By comparison South Africa with less than half those vehicles, loses 25 people per day. Kenya, which has a far smaller number of vehicles of all types, is the world’s leader in road accidents because the authorities do not prioritise road-safety. A 62-seater bus that plunged into a river on 2 October 1999 in Central Kenya had 94 passengers! Their Matatu owners (kombi-taxis) do not subscribe to principles of Road Safety

A little time spent with Richard Benson from Drive Alive is both a frightening and enlightening experience. I would urge the Chairman of the Portfolio Committee on Transport to afford Drive Alive time to appear before a meeting of the Committee. There are so many insights they will share with us.

It is so important for us to note that there is really no need for us to re-invent the wheel. Australia, the USA, Germany and other countries have spent many millions to investigate the causes of accidents on their roads. Their basic problems are no different from ours. They are, however, committed to saving their countries lives and revenue.


They have all accepted clear evidence that the greatest killer on the road today is the driver’s ability to cope with speed. Perhaps only drivers who are subjected to genuine psychometric tests, eye-tests and tests of physical fitness every second year should be allowed to drive a commercial vehicle at speeds up to 100 km/h. Ideas must be canvassed on methods to ensure that corruption is eliminated in such tests.

Short-term insurers load premiums heavily where the applicant is under 25. Their arguments for doing so are the same reasons one should consider in barring this age group from driving heavy-duty vehicles or conveying passengers. It is frightening to learn that the law will allow an 18-year-old to take charge of a 45-ton truck, or to transport passengers in a kombi-taxi at 120 km/h.


It is argued by several concerned groups, like Drive Alive, that the considerable savings that can be gained by filling the thousands of vacancies in the Traffic Department will justify the expenditure. Certainly the absence of visible policing is the major contributor to lawless behaviour on the roads. KwaZulu Natal seems to have accepted this principle and are partially applying the Victoria-formula, with mentionable success. The public is waiting to see what exactly Government actually does to improve enforcement. It can only prove its own commitment to safeguarding lives on our roads by finding an estimated R1 billion to revitalise enforcement.

Methods and Equipment:

It would, however, not be productive enough simply to employ more staff if attention is not paid to the modern methods and equipment that can be used. Mr Maurice Gatsonides may have saved many thousands of lives since the 1960’s with his electrical timing system, and later his radar-speed system combined with high speed cameras. The Laser Speed Gun is proving to be far more effective and also more economical.

The larger touring bus companies have devised means to monitor the handling of their costly vehicles. The Ferreira family of InterCape has reason to be proud of the system devised for them by Fleet Time Management Systems. Every vehicle is fitted with a “black-box” which they call a co-pilot. By means of sensors fitted in the gearbox the speed and RPM are stored in 1-second intervals from the moment certain changes trigger the mechanism. Printouts are made and analysed by computer. Johan Ferreira proudly invests so much care and money in making his buses safe that his company can print out complete running graphs on the speeds and RPM at which any one of their vehicles has travelled during a trip. By means of printouts, inter alia, from the co-pilot of InterCape bus 674 it was very evident that the accident on 22 September 1999 could not be laid at the door of the bus-driver or the company. It is trusted that the Minister will make a close study of a submission made to him, by InterCape, about Safety Mechanisms.

Kombi-taxi industry

The planned revamp of the taxi-industry is anxiously awaited. The present 120 000 odd kombi-taxis reportedly constitute an estimated 2-3% of all vehicles on the road, yet 17% of all accidents involve these vehicles.

It is suggested that the monitoring devices used by InterCape be studied and adapted for use in kombi-taxis and trucks. If such devices are built into the new kombi-taxis at point of manufacture, the increase in cost of the vehicle as a whole will be negligible. 

If such a move is approved, the task of the law enforcer can be considerably lightened.

Picture in your mind’s eye a compulsory stop at a strategic spot along the N1; a police car rigged out with a portable PC and printer; the co-pilot of a vehicle being plugged in to the PC system; and an embarrassed speedster having to account for having repeatedly driven at high speeds. South Africa has technicians who will happily ensure that a device is produced which is tamper proof and made trustworthy enough for the courts to accept.

Road Conditions:

Enforcement will be undermined if our extensive road network is allowed to further disintegrate. Not only has road maintenance become overdue, but we continue to allow massive trucks, heavily laden with non-perishable goods like steel, tyres, textiles, lumber, motorcars and the like to pound away at the remaining macadam over long distances.

Goods of this kind should be transported by the extensive rail network that is able to carry the loads.


One of the most popular programmes on British TV is entitled “Police, Camera, Action”. It is video footage of the thoughtless and dangerous things people actually do on British roads. Digital technology is used to expose every kind of bad driving and it is screened at prime, family viewing time. It also shows the people and equipment used to capture the evidence. Features on safe driving of vehicles, and policing through the decades and on the pleasant side to driving are regularly televised.

South Africa TV Channels as well as Big Business must be approached to make their contribution to Road Safety.

I call on this House to support this call for a massive, concerted and sustained drive towards road safety.

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