Every time I board a minibus taxi I find myself considering what life insurance and funeral plans I have in place, since I might soon die a horrible death. Every few weeks there’s a story in the local newspaper about a fatal accident involving a taxi along the very same route I use to commute to Richards Bay from my home town of eSikhaleni.
As a passenger, I want to be reassured that my “chosen” mode of transport is as safe as we can all help it. As a journalist, I want to know the number of road deaths involving all passengers, whether they travel using private vehicles or public transport like taxis. In a nutshell, I want to find out how many lives South Africa is willing to lose on the roads each year.
I recently read a story by a self-named “militant feminist” on a major online publication in which the Minister of Transport, Dipuo Peters, claimed that 78.4% of fatal accidents in the 2016 festive season were as a result of “stubborn, male chauvinism”. I figured that 78.4% is quite significant, and I thought maybe this is where we need to start in terms of tackling these vrrr-pha driving tendencies.
So as to be sure, I flagged the claim to the fact-checking organisation Africa Check, which confirmed that the minister’s statement is misleading in their report, “Is male chauvinism to blame for nearly 80% of road deaths in SA?” (19 January 2017).
Besides hurting my man-baby ego, the claim that stubborn, chauvinistic men are mostly to blame for road deaths simplifies a very complex problem about which we don’t seem to have reliable data. Such data might give us possible solutions to help save lives – and save the country a fair amount of money, which is something we hold dear.
For example, the 78.4% figure quoted by Peters does not in reality break down the causes of fatalities, especially not into the category of “men openly displaying their masculinity and using their vehicle’s capacity to move fast and display the car’s technical capacity,” as the minister had told Africa Check.
In fact, that 78.4% figure simply refers only to the deaths of drivers, passengers and pedestrians, and so cannot infer that the contributing human factor is “stubborn, male chauvinism”.
Africa Check reportedly struggled to find data that could give us a clear indication of the true extent of the reasons for – and the number of – lives lost on our roads. I too have come to my wits’ end in trying to get relevant data.
My motivation for obtaining such data was, at first, to get an idea of how many people die due to taxi accidents, and from there I wanted to determine the amount of accidents caused by so-called “converted taxis” (utility versions of vehicles such as the Quantum minibus and panel vans).
There was an uproar for a short while about converted taxis on our roads, with promises from the Department of Transport to crackdown on these death traps. There has been no follow-up that I’m aware of, save for the Public Protector’s intervening in January 2017, in a statement calling taxi operators to come forward to expose apparently unscrupulous businesses that sell these vehicles.
Hopefully her investigation gains traction and sheds some light on what effect converted taxis have on the carnage on our roads. Suffice to say, without data that accounts for these death traps, we can never really know the number of lives lost to them.
There is a fear among passengers, a fear they have about the taxi industry that makes them – us, as passengers – accept that we should consider ill-treatment. We accept dirty, filthy taxi ranks, unprofessional (to put it very lightly) behaviour from drivers and, to some extent, we can be quite complacent of our own safety when we ignore how clearly unsafe a rickety vehicle is with those annoying seat belts locked away by the driver.
Credit for much of the information I cited goes to Africa Check, a non-partisan organisation which promotes accuracy in public debate and the media. The rest is hot air from the depths of my discontent with public transport.
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