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Making South Africa’s roads safer for children

Nine out of every ten deaths from road traffic accidents occur in low- and middle-income nations and in certain countries, such as South Africa, traffic fatalities are particularly high.

South Africa has nearly 14,000 road fatalities each year, giving it one of the highest per capita road death rates in the world. Youngsters are especially vulnerable, with three children (aged under 15) dying each day on the country’s roads.

With little attention to urban planning in many places over recent years, it is common for traffic-laden highways to separate residential areas from schools and other public facilities. Children therefore frequently have to cross busy roads in order to reach their classes. And there are few zebra crossings, footbridges or pedestrian-operated traffic lights, particularly in poorer suburbs. Girls seem to be especially at risk, with most female pedestrian fatalities occurring among five to nine year-olds.

In an article highlighting the road dangers faced by South Africa’s children, the Guardian’s reporter visited a poor community on the edge of Cape Town. Here, school children regularly dodge the traffic to cross a busy road which runs between their homes and the school. There is a pedestrian crossing at one junction, but during rush hour, cars are given priority and it can take a very long time for the lights to change and give pedestrians right of way. One schoolgirl told the newspaper “you never see [the green man]....that is why we don’t press the button [and] it is just best to run.”

This month, a new ‘Zenani Mandela campaign’ has been launched in memory of Nelson Mandela’s 13-year-old granddaughter, who was killed in a road traffic accident during the 2010 World Cup. The initiative aims to bring a new focus to the lack of road safety measures across South Africa, adding to the existing national safety information programme, ‘Arrive Alive’.

Most adults agree that it’s not enough to teach road safety. Children have to be provided with practical and safe ways to cross busy roads. Where residents in townships have lobbied local governments to provide pedestrian bridges over highways, for example, these safer pedestrian routes have reduced the number of child injuries. The Drive Alive Pedestrian Visibility Campaign is also lobbying for laws which make it compulsory for all school uniforms to contain reflective material, to increase the visibility of child pedestrians. But these kind of large improvements take money and time. In the meanwhile, poor communities realise they must do all they can to get quick solutions such as zebra crossings or school road patrols in place, if the lives of many children are to be saved.

Laurinda Luffman signature