How technology can reduce SA’s road fatality statistics

By Justin Manson, Sales Director at Webfleet Solutions

A recent study conducted by Zutobi ranked South Africa as the world’s most dangerous country to drive in. To help combat SA’s high road fatalities, the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) has called for SA speed limits to be reduced by 10km/h on all roads.

This RTMC’s proposal follows the recently released road fatality statistics for the December 2021 holiday period, revealing a total of 1,685 recorded fatalities over the festive period, which is a 14% increase on the 2020 period.

Although several factors contributed to last year’s fatalities, including speeding, wet roads, and overtaking across barrier lines, light delivery cars and trucks contributed more fatalities per crash than any other type of vehicle. As a result, the Minister of Transport, Fikile Mbalula, called on the industry to reduce the number of accidents involving its vehicles.

Therefore, the transport industry needs to ensure drivers on the country’s roads are equipped with the necessary tools and insights to improve their driving behaviour.

Why the transport industry is under the spotlight

Although Minister Mbalula’s report reveals that trucks only contributed 6% to total crashes on South African roads, these large vehicles are often 20 to 30 times heavier than passenger vehicles and wreak havoc when involved in an accident. In addition, trucks have much higher ground clearance, making it easier for smaller cars to underride them in crashes.

Another reason why trucks are in the spotlight is their braking capability. Loaded trucks require distance to stop in an emergency, so a following distance of five to 10 metres between a car bumper and a truck at 80 kilometres per hour isn’t enough.

The required distance increases significantly on wet and slippery roads, or between old and poorly maintained vehicles.

The 2021 South African Fatal Crashes in Context report reveals that 61.% of the vehicles involved in the fatal crashes reported in the 2021 statistics were between five and 20 years old. This type of condition makes vehicles more likely to suffer brake failure, like the truck that crashed into a roadblock in 2020, killing a soldier.

However, some factors are outside the driver’s control, such as navigating some of the country’s most dangerous roads, known for their high collision rates, other drivers’ speeding and other reckless driving behaviour.

How technology promotes safer driving behaviour

Safer driving behaviour on South African roads not only benefits road users but is also an integral part of any successful transport company. However, when considering the range of risks present on the road, from accidents to bad driving conditions and vehicle malfunctions, it becomes clear that maintaining a high level of safety across an entire fleet isn’t easy.

Fleet managers must keep all their vehicles in top working condition, ensure that the team is driving safely, and keep their cars on the safest roads to prevent accidents and secure the cargo.

Some countries have instated laws requiring vehicles to have an Electronic Logging Device (ELD) to achieve this. This hardware device automatically records a driver’s drive time and other aspects relating to Hours of Service (HoS) compliance. The device achieves this by monitoring the vehicle’s engine and travelling time to determine if the vehicle is moving, the distance travelled, and the duration of engine operation.

The industry has also seen more video and artificial intelligence (AI) technology enter the market to provide more in-depth, real-time insights for context about what’s going on inside the vehicle at the time of the incident.

AI-based video solutions like in-cab cameras providing in-cab feedback and warnings to drivers to prevent accidents. These solutions achieve this by sending alerts for example when a driver uses their phone or falls asleep at the wheel. In addition they provide fleet managers with the full context on why an incident occurred for improved driver coaching.

This AI technology can even be combined with traditional telematics to keep drivers alert, encourage safer driving, and help fleet managers maintain their vehicles to limit incidents like brake failure from occurring.

These solutions are an essential tool that the transport industry can use to reduce risks, improve driving behaviour, and ultimately comply with the Minister’s call to reduce the number of accidents on our roads.