Distractions are one of the leading causes of single vehicle road crashes among young people. Young people between the ages of 18 and 24 are twice as likely to be involved in a singular vehicle crash than those in the 25 to 49 age group.
Liam Clarke, commercial manager of the Bakwena N1N4 Toll Road Concessionaire, attributes some of these fatalities to texting or using a mobile phone while behind the wheel.
“It takes about four seconds to read a text on our phones, and another five to reply. That’s about nine seconds with your eyes off the road. Nine seconds on the road is a long time. Couple this with either bad weather, poor visibility, speed or alcohol and you have a disaster waiting to happen,” said Clarke.
According to the International Transport Forum’s (ITF) Road Safety Annual Report, South Africa has one of the highest road crash rates in the world, with around 25% of those crashes caused by the use of mobile phones while driving.
The ITF lists the main causes of distraction, noting that passenger interactions are most prominent, followed by using mobile devices while driving. Other distractions include grooming, eating and drinking and other object interactions.
In the group’s 2017 report, it noted that there were 25.2 deaths per 100,000 population attributed to car crashes in 2016, costing the South African economy R143 billion, or 3.5% of GDP.
The Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) reported 14,071 road fatalities in South Africa in 2016, a 9% increase compared to 2015.
Echoing the sentiments of the international trends, the RTMC found that human factors were the biggest contributors to road fatalities, with human error accounting for 77.5% of all crashes and vehicle factors making up 6% of contributors and road and environmental factors making up 16.5%.
Clarke said road crashes can also have a socio-economic impact beyond the victims of these crashes.
“Looking outside of statistics and figures, we must remember that road crashes can lead to victims being disabled and, in turn, losing employment or an income. The death of a breadwinner could result in the rest of the family living in poverty or negatively affecting the psyche of family and friends,” Clarke said.
Although alcohol and speeding are among the leading factors in South Africa’s road crashes, the use of mobile phones while driving is one of the top causes of driver distraction.
In South Africa drivers caught using their mobile phones whilst driving can be fined up to R750. In the Western Cape the same offence is also punishable with a fine of R500 and having your cellphone confiscated, where should you want it back will have to pay an additional release fee of R1,140.
ITF says mobile phone usage while driving affects driver competence, resulting in a 37% decrease in parietal lobe, the part of the brain mostly responsible for language.
Data collected through the Discovery Insure Driver Challenge app, found that a single instance of mobile phone usage represents an average of 52 seconds of distracted driving. At 60km/h, this is equivalent to driving “blind” for one kilometre and makes the driver four times more likely to have a crash, the study found.
Clarke said more stringent measures must be put into place to deter the use of mobile phones while driving.
“If the stats and fatality records tell us anything, it’s this: driving distracted not only places one’s life in danger, but also the lives of other motorists. Alcohol, fatigue and speeding are all known to perpetuate bad driving, but the use of a cellphone while driving is equally dangerous,” Clarke said.