When it comes to road safety, South Africa has a bad reputation, with high accident rates and many fatalities. Each year the World Health Organisation releases a Global Status Report on Road Safety, and as of 2013 (the most recently released figures) South Africa has 31.9 road deaths per 100,000 people. Sweden, however, tops the list with a mere 3 deaths per 100,000. So what is Sweden doing right? We’re taking a look at why Sweden is the king of road safety, and what we can learn from them.
Road Safety: The Numbers
As of early October, 2015 the current number of road accidents according to one source is already at 765,868. 114,612 people have been injured in car accidents in the last ten months alone, and there have been 12,579 fatalities. Those statistics are pretty horrifying, particularly when compared to Sweden, where according to the World Health Organisation only 270 people died in road accidents for the whole of 2014.
But just why is Sweden so much safer for drivers than South Africa? Are Swedes simply better at driving safely? Are the roads in better condition? The answer may lie in how Sweden deals with road safety.
The Four Keys to Swedish Road Safety
There are four elements that Sweden combines to improve road safety. These aren’t incredibly complicated measures either. The four things that improve road safety for Sweden are:
Speed Limits: Swedish speed limits are slower than in many other countries, with the limit being 120 kph on highways and 80 kph on country roads, there are also 1,500 fixed speed traps in the country, and speeding fines are high, averaging around R3,000;
Investing in Road Safety Infrastructure: Sweden also spends a lot of money on infrastructure to improve road safety, according to the International Transport Forum Sweden spent over 30 billion Rands on road maintenance in 2013 (the most recent year that figures were released), which is roughly R3,000 per person;
Incident Investigation: every fatal accident in Sweden undergoes a complete analysis by road safety investigators to determine the cause, and to see if anything could be done to prevent the same thing happening again;
Drinking and Driving Laws: drinking and driving laws in Sweden are strict compared to many other countries, the legal blood alcohol limit is only 0.02 percent (0.05 percent is common in other places), in addition many buses, taxis and lorries are fitted with “alcolocks” which prevent a vehicle from starting until the driver has blown into a breathalyser.
All of these elements have been implemented by the Swedish government in a programme called “Vision Zero” which aims to make road safety in Sweden so great that there are zero fatalities.
How Does This Compare to South African Road Safety?
So how does South Africa compare in these four elements? Some of these are difficult comparisons, since South Africa is a much larger country than Sweden, but we’ll do our best!
Speed Limits: speed limits themselves in South Africa compare quite well to those in Sweden, since there is a 60 kph limit in general, going up to 120 kph on highways, unfortunately we were unable to find a reliable source for the number of fixed speeding cameras on roads, but speeding fines average R1,500;
Investing in Road Safety Infrastructure: according to Department of Treasury estimates, South Africa spent around 19.5 billion Rands on roads in the year between 2013 and 2014, which is a mere R368 per person;
Incident Investigation: as far as we were able to find out, accident investigation in South Africa is done by the police themselves (though this obviously doesn’t mean that they aren’t professional), there are no laws regarding whether an accident should undergo special investigation or not, and though accident investigators do exist they tend to be employed by insurance companies rather than the state;
Drinking and Driving Laws: the legal blood alcohol limit to drive in South Africa is 0.05 percent.
Looking at this information, it’s clear that the biggest difference when it comes to road safety in Sweden and South Africa is the amount of money spent on roads and drink driving limits.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Sweden haven’t always had the best road safety record in the world, in fact, according to one source the country has halved the number of road deaths since 2000, which is very impressive. But this also means that South Africa could do the same!
In fact, this process is already happening. The 2015 South African budget stated that improving infrastructure was a big priority, and R274 billion from the national budget has been given to infrastructure as a whole. That includes things like rail networks though, around R40 billion will go towards roads alone.
There have also been discussions about lowering speed limits on South African roads, which would almost certainly improve road safety, though so far the government has been unable to decide on this matter.
What is clear is that what Sweden has done by improving their road safety is a fantastic example for other countries. Particularly South Africa, where road accident death rates are so high. Improving road safety isn’t impossible, as Sweden have proved, and we have a lot to learn from the Scandinavian country. Hopefully South Africa’s road safety record is going to improve, but in the meantime, drive safely!
Main Subject: road safety
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