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Escalating road maintenance crisis results in avoidable injuries and deaths

Escalating road maintenance crisis results in avoidable injuries and deaths

The escalating road maintenance crisis in South Africa means many people drive on treacherous roads which are the direct cause of accidents that result in serious injuries and deaths.

This is according to Kirstie Haslam, partner at DSC Attorneys, who says that the statistics on South Africa’s road maintenance backlog explain the state of our roads. It’s estimated that South Africa needs R138 billion each year to fund road maintenance. An additional R27.5 billion is required to grow the road network by 1% annually.

Between 1998 and 2008, the road network that’s older than its planned 20-year lifespan rose from 36% to 78%. “Combine this with an estimated 4% increase in road traffic per annum and it’s unsurprising many of our roads are unsafe to drive on,” says Haslam.

She points out that as much as 77.5% of gravel roads are considered to be in poor condition. “It would take R115 billion to get the high-volume gravel roads upgraded and R1.7 trillion to upgrade all gravel roads,” she explains. “This would require a 4% rise in VAT or an additional R3 per litre fuel levy.”

Regular maintenance keeps roads safe

Many areas of South Africa only have gravel roads and they require constant maintenance to keep them safe. She says that without regular grading, dirt roads develop ridges, potholes and a loose surface, which makes them unsafe to drive on.

“This is particularly dangerous in rural areas where access to emergency services is inadequate,” she adds.

Road damage in South Africa

Damage to roads isn’t always caused by poor maintenance. If the damage isn’t addressed and roads don’t get ongoing maintenance they deteriorate quickly.

She says that roads need constant maintenance and periodic resurfacing to stay in good condition and safe for road users.

Haslam highlights construction quality, environmental factors and excessive load as the three main causes of road damage:

Construction quality

If a road is poorly constructed, it will have ongoing surface issues.

For example, if the ground beneath the road surface is unstable or incorrectly compacted, the surface shifts over time causing potholes and cracks.

Environmental factors

Environmental factors such as rain are a large contributor to poor road surfaces.

If a road surface has the tiniest imperfection, hard rain will quickly turn it into a deep pothole. In some areas of South Africa, extreme temperatures are a factor too.

Excessive load

Heavy and constant traffic on a road creates wear and tear to the surface.

When maintenance is neglected, the road’s ability to handle heavy or constant traffic is compromised.

How poor road conditions can cause accidents

Haslam says that many road accidents in South Africa are caused by poor road conditions, such as:

  • deep potholes that cause drivers to lose control of their vehicles
  • slippery surfaces or loose gravel that cause skidding
  • rutted roads that cause significant damage to vehicles
  • potholes that dent rims and burst tyres
  • uneven or rough roads that cause damage to shocks, suspension and engine leaks.

Road accident claims due to poor road maintenance

She points out that if you have been in an accident caused by the treacherous state of our roads the relevant responsible local authority or the State could, potentially, be liable for damages.

Haslam advises that accident victims should contact an attorney with a medico-legal team as soon as possible after an accident occurs.

“Record details of the incident, if possible including photos of the accident, damage to vehicles and the road surface,” she says. “Also record the names and contact details of any witnesses that can corroborate the details of the accident and attest to the fact that it was caused by poor road maintenance.”