Making Modern South African Roads Safer This Holiday Season
Justin Manson, Sales Director at Webfleet Solutions

In its recently published second annual Road Safety Report, Webfleet found that growing traffic volumes, road conditions, compliance and various easily corrected behaviours by road users are costing South Africa billions. As the country heads into the busy summer holiday season, Webfleet South Africa Sales Director, Justin Manson, and CEO of driver training provider Master Drive, Eugene Herbert, look at how to make modern South African roads safer.

J: Why is Road Safety such an important objective from a Master Drive perspective?

E: There are several facets through which we view road safety; namely how we deliver our training courses, how road safety affects corporations and what it costs the country.

Road safety is at the cornerstone of what we do in our driver training, with the primary objective to change driver behaviour, and thus reduce the likelihood that they are involved in a crash and a probable fatality.

From a corporate perspective, enhanced safety not only protects people’s lives but also delivers efficiencies in operations, opening opportunities for creation.

For the country, safety has an impact on the fiscus. According to the Automobile Association (AASA), the cost of dysfunctions on our roads is around R200 billion a year. Imagine the difference we could make if we unlocked just 10% of that and ploughed it back into education, welfare, job creation, and infrastructure.

J: What are some of the good maintenance habits that both drivers and other road users can adopt to ensure that they and their vehicles are safer on the roads?

E: It starts with what you do every day before you get in a vehicle. A quick routine overview of the vehicle takes around 30-60 seconds, checking the tyres, licence disc in the window, wipers and cracks on windscreens. Simple basic checks can easily prevent incidents caused by technical issues, like over or underinflated tyres, for example.

In South Africa, unless a vehicle is under a service plan, many people fail to maintain their vehicles regularly, some due to financial constraints.

J: Vehicle upkeep is a priority, and with today’s modern vehicle technology that can help maintain your car through notification pop-ups for tyre pressure and engine oil, it raises the question, what habits can every driver adopt more of to be safer?:

E: I always focus on five key things laid out to ensure safer roads: 

  1. Always wear a seatbelt. Seatbelts are a proven factor in saving lives. Some will say they were someone who went into the river, and the seat belt couldn’t come off. But they need to consider the overwhelming number of people saved because of seat belts.
  2. Drinking and driving. It doesn’t matter if you think you can handle your liquor, making a habit of using the numerous alternative and convenient transport options for drinkers can save your life and that of others.
  3. Drivers need to stop being distracted, and this includes actions like eating or smoking while driving. It is such a big problem that one of our partners generated a report that found that as many as 60% of their crashes were due to drivers using their cellphones. Internationally, the number sits at 35%, which is still very high.
  4. Road users must respect speed limits, and just because the speed limit is 120, it doesn’t mean you have to drive at that maximum speed. It is about the appropriate use of speed for the environment, the conditions, and the engineering of the vehicle.
  5. Lastly, the habit of keeping a safe following distance of at least 3-5 seconds from the point where the car in front is at any given time. On the Ben Schoeman between Johannesburg and Pretoria, a study was conducted a few years ago that found that 80% of crashes were due to inadequate following distance.

J: What are some of those features that could potentially come down the line to make roads safer?

E: I’m so glad you are asking this. Some may think autonomous vehicles are on the horizon, and while it’s a noble goal to aspire to, we must first look at where we are now.

We are still experiencing difficulties transitioning from internal combustion vehicles. Two things are needed for autonomous vehicles to enter the market: a stable power source, which we are still struggling with, and a very well-maintained infrastructure with full, detailed markings and 5G consistency (related to power issues).

That means we are a long way away, but even when those are secured, we remain with difficult moral and legal issues. For instance, if a car is driving on the road and suddenly has to make a decision between hitting an old person or bunch of children, can it make that decision?

So, just because we have advanced tech in cars, doesn’t mean we should then drive badly, ignoring safety principles. These features only help us to be better, and if we adopt that the attitude, then it serves a greater the good.