Sunshine and matric results are synonymous with South Africa’s festive season - as is the country’s road death toll, sadly.
Between the 1st and 19th of December, 845 people died on South African roads, transport minister Dipuo Peters announced in a briefing before Christmas.
This included 331 passengers (39% of the total), 290 pedestrians (34%), 201 drivers (24%) and 23 cyclists (3%).
Women and girls made up 21.1% of the death toll, with the sex of about 4 people (0.5%) yet to be identified pending DNA tests, an information manager with the Road Traffic Management Corporation, Rosina Moloto, told Africa Check.
But the minister took aim at men in particular. She told reporters that action needs to be taken “to deal with the male stubborn and chauvinistic attitude as they account for 78.4% of fatalities”.
Peters’ claim was picked up by a number of media houses, ranging from online news sites to radio and television. “'Stubborn and chauvinistic' men to blame for most road deaths”, read a headline on TimesLIVE.
One of our readers suggested we take a closer look at the claim. Step one: finding out what Peters meant when she attributed deaths to the “male stubborn and chauvinistic attitude”.
‘An attitude of superiority towards females’
The minister’s spokesman, Ishmael Mnisi, told Africa Check in an email that Peters’ comments refer to “an attitude of superiority towards females. This is done by openly displaying their financial accumulations, masculinity using their vehicles capacity to move fast and the display of the car technical capacity.”
There is a link between gender and road traffic deaths, researcher Roger Behrens from the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Transport Studies, told Africa Check.
More men tend to die on South Africa's roads than women and a possible causal link is differences in risk-taking behaviour.
The Centre for Transport Studies conducted a study of road crashes, deaths and injuries for the Western Cape provincial transport department in 2010. It showed that 37.3% of 711 traffic deaths in 2007 were of drivers. Only 8% of the drivers who died were women, though they were behind the wheel in 25% of the crashes.
Researcher Marianne Vanderschuren explained that this “is where we are certain about the difference in behaviour causing this”. In the report, Vanderschuren recommended that the department’s road safety education specifically focus on young men and young male drivers “as they are the main group responsible for road crashes, even if they themselves are not always the fatality”.
78.4% figure doesn’t reveal crash causes
That said, the 78.4% figure that Peters referred to did not only include male drivers - who may have caused the crash in which they died - but all male pedestrians, passengers and cyclists who died in the period. The RTMC’s Moloto confirmed this to Africa Check.
Furthermore, the figure doesn’t tell us what caused the fatal car crashes. Male chauvinism would count as a human factor, one of three categories to which crashes are attributed.
The bulk of male deaths in the first weeks of December fell into this human factor category, at 81.9%.
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However, human factors do not necessarily equal driver error. A breakdown of preliminary figures Moloto shared for the whole month showed that more than a quarter of men and boys who died due to human factors were jaywalking.
So even if we accepted the “chauvinistic attitude” as a causal factor of traffic deaths, it couldn’t account for the whole 78.4%. A much more careful analysis - based on accurate capturing - of the data is required.
To facilitate this, the Road Traffic Management Corporation can help by making datasets readily and frequently available.
Conclusion: The minister’s claim is misleading
South Africa’s minister of transport claimed that 78.4% of male deaths during the first 19 days of December 2016 could be accounted for by “the stubborn and chauvinistic male attitude”.
Data from the Road Traffic Management Corporation showed that the figure related to all the men and boys that died in crashes. This included cyclists and pedestrians (and excluded men who survived an accident they caused).
Further, while the men and boys overwhelmingly died due to human factors, contributing factors to do with vehicles (such as tyres that burst) or the environment (such as poor visibility) played a role in close to 20% of the deaths.
Experts confirmed a link between road deaths and gender, citing differences in risk-taking behaviour between men and women as a possible explanation. However, they told Africa Check that chauvinist attitudes speak more to perceptions that may be held by drivers than actual causes of crashes.
Solving a problem requires a thorough understanding of its causes. In few other social matters in South Africa is this more important than road safety.