Morality might curb Mortality

Could there be a link between the mortality on our roads and the morality of road users and traffic officials?

by Prof Deon Rossouw

The carnage on South African roads made the news headlines again. The Minister of Transport recently announced the death toll over the December holiday period at a news conference. According to Minister Dipuo Peters, a total of 1,714 people lost their lives over this period. This number is most probably an underestimation of the real death toll on South African roads - as a number of commentators pointed out.

This high number of traffic-related fatalities was, however, no exception, but part of a growing trend that is likely to continue. The usual causes of the high mortality on our roads were once more pointed out: speeding, drinking, texting, driver errors, etc. And quite predictably, the solutions proposed revolved around more and harsher regulations, and the enforcement thereof.

But could there also be a link between the mortality on our roads and the morality of road users and traffic officials?

The South African Citizens’ Bribery Survey 2016 conducted by The Ethics Institute, that was released just before the December holidays, points to a possible link between morality and mortality – at least as far as traffic related deaths are concerned. The study found that the top five instances for paying bribes in South Africa were the following:

  1. Avoiding traffic fines (36%)
  2. Getting jobs (18%)
  3. Getting drivers’ licences (15%)
  4. Getting discounts or free goods from business (7%)
  5. Getting tenders (4%)

From this list above it is clear that most instances of bribery (51%) are related to traffic offences or illegitimate drivers’ licences. Although there are many other explanations for the carnage on our roads, traffic related bribery must be taken seriously as one of the contributing factors to the high mortality on our roads.

As long as road users know that they can bribe their way out of speeding, drinking, or any other driver related offences, they are likely to continue with their irresponsible road behaviour. Having drivers on our roads who are not familiar with traffic rules and who did not pass a stringent driving test, further aggravates the problem.

One of the recommendations of The South African Citizens’ Bribery Survey 2016, is that more should be done to identify and eradicate traffic related bribery. Sting operations should be carried out to identify both officials and road users who are involved in these corrupt practices.

We would, however, fool ourselves if we think that stamping out traffic related bribery is sufficient to curb the mortality on our roads. Equally important is the morality of road users. We should not rely on law enforcement alone to ensure that people behave responsibly on our roads.

It is vitally important that responsible driving behaviour starts from within every road user. Responsible driving should start with the moral commitment of road users. We should respect the lives of the people who depend on our road behaviour. The discipline of responsible road behaviour should reside within road users, and should not be dependent on the external enforcement of road regulations by traffic officials.

Part of the responsibility of road users is to avoid bribing traffic officials. It is a myth that bribery related to traffic offences and drivers’ licences are always initiated by corrupt traffic officials. Very often it is the offending road user or the aspiring driver (or his/her parents) that takes the initiative in trying to bribe themselves out of a traffic fine, or into a drivers’ licence.

Stopping such immoral behaviour can play a significant role in decreasing the mortality on our roads.