Paper presented at the 26th Annual Southern African Transport Conference 9 - 12 July 2007 "The challenges of implementing policy?", CSIR International Convention Centre, Pretoria, South Africa. ABSTRACT:There is a tendency to think of road or transport safety as being a separate subject from safety and security, yet the two are closely interwoven. The paper will make some of these connections, referring to local and where relevant international studies. Much of what makes our roads unsafe has it's roots in criminal activity - and criminal activity has a major impact on our mobility. The need for mobility also makes us much more vulnerable than we would be if we could stay in one place. The paper will demonstrate.
Any strategy for a safe South Africa must therefore address these issues in an integrated way, bringing together experts and experiences from a range of disciplines. The first and most obvious cross-cutting theme is that of substance abuse and in particular, alcohol abuse. Alcohol is possibly the single most destructive influence in our society today; as National Injury Mortality Surveillance System (NIMSS) and South African Police Service (SAPS) data clearly shows, it makes us both vulnerable to attack and accidental harm or death as well as contributing to extreme and violent criminal behaviour. The combination of alcohol and guns is often lethal - and in a society characterised by frustration and anger, we all too often see the results on our roads in incidents of road rage. This also feeds into our fear of crime and perceptions of unsafety - in return contributing to more guns, more frustration, and more anger. The presence of guns in cars and on people on public transport significantly impacts our safety as we move from place to place. Public transport is inherently unsafe for many of our citizens. Women are vulnerable to sexual assault on their way to and from work. Children are similarly vulnerable on their way to and from school. Our roads provide a showcase for our lack of respect for the rule of law in South Africa and the way in which this feeds into our sense of chaos and anxiety about safety. Many vehicles are unroadworthy, many drivers have obtained their licenses through illegal means, and bribery of traffic and other law officials is ubiquitous. All of these are criminal acts, yet somehow it seems that the majority of South Africans have found ways to excuse their own illegal behaviour and shift the blame onto others. Vehicle theft, in particular hi-jacking makes our roads a place of fear and anxiety for many, particularly women. There is a range of things that we need to do about all of this and the paper will propose a few, citing studies and cases:
We need to clarify and reinstate respect for the rule of law as a basic premise of a democracy. We need to categorise and deal with crime as crime, regardless of where it occurs. The law must be seen to deal with offenders equitably, regardless of social status. This must apply to both laws and by-laws. We need to address the scourge of alcohol and its place in our society. It is somehow the protected errant son, too much loved to be outlawed; across the strata of SA society, drunkenness is tolerated and even expected, it is a part of celebration, grief, congratulation, entertainment, enjoyment of sport, dealing with disappointment or tiredness. We live with the very expensive consequences. We need to reduce the availability and efficacy of firearms in the illegal market. Under current circumstances the right to carry a gun puts us all at risk. We must ensure that the officials entrusted to uphold the law do so and we must deal ruthlessly with those who do not. We must dramatically reduce our tolerance for offenders - we can no longer afford to tolerate criminal activity of any kind in our family members, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. It must be anti-social to admit to breaking the law, not to respond negatively to one who admits to having done so. We need to change the way we capture information and manage knowledge about these issues so that they are scientifically and quickly demonstrable and responses can be appropriately motivated.
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