When researching South Africa’s road safety story what struck me was just how many versions of that story there are.

There is the ‘official’ road safety story put out by the authorities; there is the taxi driver / owners road safety story, the truckers and logistic companies story, the motorcyclist’s and cyclist’s stories, the passenger car drivers story and the pedestrians story; then there is your and my story and literally millions of others, each one absolutely true to the teller.

What concerned me is how different these stories are and that it is never the story teller who is the problem; that is always some other groups or persons problem. Until we as South African drivers have one, agreed South African road safety story, there will always be an out for us; blame someone else or some other group.

What is South Africa’s real road safety story? Finding out is not straight forward. There is no one place one can go for all the facts and often the data is years, even decades old. Driver Assess’s take on the real South African road safety story is as follows.

South Africa’s current road safety story:

  1. There were 12 107 094¹ licensed vehicles on South African roads in December 2017 and there were 454 871 unlicensed vehicles (3.8%) on the road. There were:
    • 3 885 161 goods vehicles / buses (132 219 or 3.4% were unlicensed);
    • 7 183 189 passenger vehicles (273 297 or 3.8 were unlicensed);
    • 314 384 mini bus taxi’s (14 720  or 4.7% were unlicensed);
    • 350 509 motorcycles (23 543 or 6.7% were unlicensed).
  2. There are 12 283 777 legal drivers² on SA roads (March 2017);
  3. It is estimated that at least 10% of drivers on SA roads are unlicensed³. That is +1 200 000 drivers. An insurance company estimated that more than 400 000 truck drivers are unlicensed or incorrectly licensed;
  4. 60 – 75% of vehicles on SA roads are uninsured.

Vehicle accidents, deaths and injuries:

  1. In 2010 there were officially, more than 14 000 fatalities(4) on SA roads. The Medical Research Council’s Unnatural Deaths database on the other hand reports more than 28 000 deaths from road accidents in 2010 (pedestrian deaths included);
  2. Every week in SA, approximately 200 people become para or quadriplegic’s (2010) ;
  3. Approximately 150 000 serious injuries(4) (2010) occur per annum on SA’s roads;

How we drive:

  1. There are approximately 44.5 billion aggressive or hostile interactions between drivers on SA roads per annum – take the free ‘How hostile a driver are you?’ test at  https://driverassesslive.com/quick-quiz-survey/
  2. A Quebec(5) study of accidents states that in 82% of fatal accidents a driver had committed a road traffic offense immediately prior to the accident;
  3. Alcohol is recorded in 58% of fatal road accidents in SA(6). This is the highest recorded rate in the world;
  4. Speed played a role in 23% of fatal accidents and increased to 33%(7a) in 2004. 30.4% of drivers regularly exceed the 120kph speed limit, 14.1% exceed 130kph and 5.9% exceed 140kph(7b);
  5. At a road block(8) 19%* of drivers, 49.9% of front seat passengers and 92.4% of rear seat passengers were not wearing seat belts. In rural areas 44.2% and in urban areas 59.6% of vehicle occupants were not wearing seat belts (* majority of the drivers put their belts on when they saw / were waiting to enter the road block);
  6. Fewer than 7%(9) of infants and children younger than 10 are restrained in approved safety seats / booster seats in cars, taxi’s or buses in SA;

Many South African drivers are aggressive, me first drivers. Many or possibly most of us are selfish, self-righteous and discourteous towards other drivers and road users;


A world class risk based occupational safety programme needs to be implemented and maintained with a ratio of 80% proactive management and 20% reactive, one almost always needs some stick; most importantly though, people have to want to work safely and need to own the programme.

In the South African road safety programme, in Driver Assess’s opinion, the ratio is reversed and reads 20% proactive  policing (I feel I am being generous here) and 80% reactive policing. Neither the traffic authorities nor drivers will change the current South African road safety story by keeping on doing what has not worked for decades.

There is a lawlessness creeping onto SA roads – people use stop signs as yield signs, they park where and as they want, more and more drivers are removing the registration plates of their cars, there is an increase in the number of drunk drivers, drivers no longer fear the traffic authorities, freeways are used as pedestrian walkways, crossing points and informal markets, Herder’s graze cattle in the road reserve and our men and women in uniform do nothing to stop this happening; it’s easier, safer and more profitable to stop a motorist.

What is the answer to this depressing missive? We can change the South African road safety story, not by getting anyone else to change, well not initially but by changing our own high(er) risk driving behaviours. If each one of us takes responsibility for ourselves and becomes aware of and pays attention to our current driving stories, we can write and take control of our own, positive driving story.

South Africa’s or any other countries road safety story doesn’t have to be this way; take responsibility for yourself, choose to take a Driver Assess driver behaviour profiler and become part of changing your countries road safety story to one that is positive and where we stop killing and maiming our fellow drivers and pedestrians and we begin to see driving for what it is – a social interaction and construct that requires all drivers to work together courteously, to make traffic flow safety, efficiently and effectively.

If it’s to be, it starts with me. Emotions drive people, people drive cars.

Reference and credits:

¹e’Natis report on South African licensed and unlicensed vehicles as at 31 December 2017 Note: Northern Cape unlicensed vehicles figures used are as at 30 November 2017;

²Number of drivers within SA. Road Traffic Management Corporation, March 2017

³Automobile Association of South Africa estimation

(4)Medical Research Council, Natural Injury Surveillance System 2010

(5)Changing Road User Behaviour: what works, what doesn’t (PDE Publications, Ontario, 1998

(6)World Health Organisation, 2015 Global Report on Road Safety

(7a)SAPS – National Fatal Accident Information Centre (NFAIC). (7b)www.ArriveAlive.co.za 2004

(8)ArriveAlive.co.za – 1997 / 98

(9)Africa Check, 2015

Photo credits:

Justin Luebke – www.unsplash.com

Ryan Riggins – www.unsplash.com

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