An 'unacceptable' number of pedestrian fatalities during the past festive season has prompted the KwaZulu-Natal transport, community safety and liaison department to dub 2007 "the year of the pedestrian" and to educate rural communities on road usage.
Pedestrian fatalities during the 2006/07 festive season were the only statistic that showed an increase compared to 2005/06, said Transport, Community Safety and Liaison MEC Bheki Cele at a press conference in Durban on Tuesday.
From December 1 last year to January 7 this year 157 pedestrians died on KZN's roads, compared to the 147 deaths in 2005/06, while 186 pedestrians were arrested for walking on freeways during the holidays.
Transport Department Head Kwazi Mbanjwa attributed the high pedestrian death toll to a lack of education on road usage, and cited examples of pedestrians jogging at night in dark clothing that made them nearly invisible to drivers.
Cattle were also being herded along KwaZulu-Natal freeways, said Cele. "We will shoot these cows if they continue to be a nuisance on our freeways," he said.
Cele said the department would embark on awareness campaigns this year to educate people unfamiliar with traffic laws.
Mbanjwa said that people from deep rural areas did not encounter robots except when they came into cities to do their annual shopping. The department would focus its attention on such communities during "the year of the pedestrian" campaign.
Overall, the holiday period saw a reduction in road fatalities nationally and provincially. The total road deaths in KwaZulu-Natal amounted to 293 in 247 crashes, compared to 312 people in 256 crashes in 2005/06.
In KwaZulu-Natal, motorists were charged with about 35 000 traffic offences, and 877 were arrested for serious traffic violations during the holidays.
Of those arrested, 664 drivers were caught for drunken driving, 77 for speeding and 17 for reckless and negligent driving.
Cele said 1 219 unroadworthy vehicles had been removed from KwaZulu-Natal roads. Many of these had been spotted at the 3 039 roadblocks conducted in the province.
He noted that many "speed bastards" came from Gauteng and the North West provinces, and contributed to the fatalities.
Bus operators and minibus taxis were still putting profit above the lives of their passengers, Cele said.
It had been a "great tragedy" when 18 people had lost their lives on Christmas Eve alone owing to driver negligence and mechanical error, he said. The first accident, which claimed 12 lives, happened on the N3 near Pietermaritzburg when an SA Roadlink bus collided with the pillars of a bridge.
Another accident involving two minibus taxis and a bakkie that day killed six people near Vryheid.
Mbanjwa was positive about the figures, saying the authorities had had to deal with 2,5-million local tourists in the province this year, with an additional 100 000 international visitors.
The rising vehicle numbers also added to the strain, with about 500 000 cars sold in the country last year.
This article was originally published on page 4 of The Mercury on January 10, 2007