The speed is high on the roads of South Africa. The respect of speed limits and traffic laws are low and overloaded busses and vans are switching lines in a dangerous speed. The accidents are both many and severe. The traffic is growing in a higher speed while the infrastrucure is left behind. An important tool to reduce the number of victims si how to learn identify the risks with road safety audits.
It is just before three and the afternoon traffic is starting to get
heavier at a crossroads in Benoni, a place between Pretoria and
Johannesburg in the province of Gauteng. There is a petrol station here,
with a garage and on the other side a rundown little shopping centre
with a peeling red façade of corrugated sheet. Alongside – a stone’s
throw from the noisy traffic – is a wall that hides the building of
another large residential estate, Molenhoff Country Estates.
Right opposite, on the other side of the busy M43, is an open field with pools of water that reminds you that the area was until recently quiet and rural. Livestock such as cows, goats and sheep are still sold from buildings a few hundred metres away
It is thirty-five degrees centigrade and filling station owner Billy is wondering who the people are who are wandering about on the verge of the road with cameras, paper and pens. When he hears that they are participants in an international road safety project, with twelve countries represented, he is interested.
“Accidents are always happening here,” he says, shaking his head. There was a nasty crash between two cars only last Saturday night.
The lecturers from Lund, András Várhelyi and Sverker Almqvist, have provided the participants with a three-page observation form on which they can report on traffic from the point of view of the design of the crossroads and assess safety from the point of view of drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. Here they use the knowledge acquired from four weeks of intensive study in Lund in what is known as a Road Safety Audit to identify problems and potential causes of accidents and to see possible solutions.
Down on the road from Johannesburg stands one of the participants from South Africa, the police officer Robert Askew, who works in road safety at national level with the emphasis on investigating, identifying and preventing the causes of accidents. Road safety has become his mission after seeing all too many crashes and bringing news of deaths more times than he cares to remember.
“You can see, they’ve extended the crossing bit by bit as traffic has grown and more roads have been built. The traffic lights are difficult to see, the road markings are almost worn out and nobody has thought about the pedestrians who need to cross the road to get to and from work and school in the morning and the afternoon.
“They’re building new estates all the time but they never think about the roads. They just get worse and worse. And new shopping centres keep springing up everywhere without any consideration of getting into or out of them or reasonable parking places – the chaos just grows.
A lorry thunders past on the way to yet another building site. On the trailer, among metal drainpipes and other building materials, sit a group of workmen huddled on wooden crates. Soon afterwards a woman comes past in a white pick-up with a group of schoolchildren wearing green and yellow uniforms, all sitting on the back and looking curiously at the strangers taking photographs.
A pedestrian runs across two lanes and makes the far side unscathed, although no drivers take their foot off the gas to allow him across. Sellers of Coca-Cola and snacks rush out when the cars stop for a red light, dangerous but for poor people perhaps the only chance of earning a little money. The local police only give the scene a quick glance before they drive on.
Next day there is a review and the groups report on their observations. András Várhelyi and Sverker Almqvist guide the discussion and give their comments. How are the signs placed? Are the traffic lights visible? Can pedestrians manage? Physical obstacles? Is the surface one on which cars can stop suddenly if necessary?
The review brings out a number of problems but also shows how improvements could be made, by reducing speeds, better siting of traffic lights and building refuges to separate the traffic better and enable pedestrians to cross in reasonable safety.
“A Road Safety Audit is an important way of identifying potential dangers and preventing accidents. The team is to act independently and submit its findings, stating priorities and proposing action, to the responsible authority. Where new construction is concerned, contact and collaboration with the design team is important, while in the case of existing roads it may for example to be useful to make contact with those responsible for road maintenance,” says András Várhelyi.
The mixture of theory and practice is characteristic of the education programme as a whole. All the participants should be able to apply their knowledge in real contexts in their own countries – whether in general strategies or to solve specific practical/technical problems such as the design of pedestrian crossings and speed bumps.
Whether the individual participants continue to work on road safety audits or not, everybody has now acquired a practical understanding of the significance and value of this way of working. It is also important to show the improvements that can be made, sowing the seeds of ideas that can grow in the participant’s own country.
On the last day of the course, Sunday 29 October 2006, eleven people are killed in road accidents in the province of Gauteng.
Severe injuries are common on the roads in South Africa. Traffic police and investigator Robert Askew took this picture when a crowded minibus had an accident on the motorway outside Cape Town. Twelve people were killed, the driver survived and where prosecuted.
Practical test at an intersection in Benoni between Pretoria and Johannesburg, South Africa. Participants in Road Traffic Safety investigate potential traffic hazards. They study the physical prerequisites as placement of traffic signs, signals and road marks and how the design of the crossing influence the behaviour of drivers.
Pedestrians are a vulnerable group in traffic and many of them who are affected is school children between 7-12 years. In this crossing there is a total lack of facilities for pedestrians. They have to cross between the cars with their lives at stake.