South African road agency gets traffic deaths stat wrong

Claim

About 47% of road fatalities are pedestrians

Source: Tweet by SA Traffic Infringement Agency (April 2018)

not-rated

Verdict

Explainer: Agency referred to passenger deaths during Easter 2017

  • Road agency meant to refer to passenger deaths during Easter 2017
  • Traffic deaths are likely underestimated
  • 2009 post-mortem study estimated pedestrian deaths at 40% of total when road user was specified


Road safety receives particular attention from South African authorities during the holiday period and this Easter was no different.

In a social media post ahead of this year’s holiday weekend, South Africa’s Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA), an adjudication and traffic fines collections agency, focussed on pedestrian deaths.

In a tweet, it claimed that “about 47% of road fatalities are pedestrians. Transport Minister @DrBladeNzimande is very much concerned. One road death is one too many.” (Note: The tweet has since been deleted.)

Africa Check looked at the available data to fact-check this claim.

38.4% of road deaths in 2016 were pedestrians

RTIA spokesman, Monde Mkalipi, told Africa Check that the statistic referred specifically to the 2017 Easter weekend – something the tweet did not state.

He said the information come from the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), an organisation that compiles and analyses road accident and traffic data collected by the police in South Africa.

Mkalipi said the claim was from an RTMC Easter weekend report, but this report didn’t support the claim. It showed that 47% of fatalities reported were of passengers – not pedestrians.

Pedestrians accounted for 30% of the road deaths recorded in the Easter period of 2017.

“There are usually high passenger fatalities around the Easter period because many people use public transport to various pilgrimages,” RTMC spokesman, Simon Zwane said. “So in that case, one accident pushes up the number of passenger fatalities.”

The RTMC’s latest annual report on fatalities is for 2016. In that year, pedestrians accounted for 38.4% of the 14,071 road deaths the corporation recorded.

Road deaths in South Africa in 2016
Number %
Drivers 3,601 25.6%
Passengers 4,608 32.7%
Pedestrians 5,410 38.4%
Cyclists 451 3.2%
Other 1 0%

Source: Road Traffic Management Corporation

Road traffic deaths likely underestimated

But road traffic deaths reported by the RTMC are likely to be underestimated, Megan Prinsloo, a senior scientist in the burden of disease research unit of the South African Medical Research Council (MRC), told Africa Check.

“The challenge is that the RTMC road traffic deaths are based on reports from SAPS and not an actual body count,” she said.

“Other sources for pedestrian road deaths include mortuaries, as these deaths will be confirmed by forensic pathologists’ post-mortem reports. Mortality data are likely to be the most accurate source, as it includes an actual body count,” Prinsloo explained.

MRC: 17,103 road traffic deaths in 2009

Prinsloo and her colleagues at the MRC conducted an injury mortality survey. The retrospective survey looked at a nationally representative sample of post-mortem reports in 2009 and compared their findings to previous estimates.

They estimated that there were actually 17,103 road traffic deaths in 2009, compared to the 13,802 deaths the RTMC recorded in the same timeframe.  

“In general, our survey indicated that pedestrian deaths accounted for 40% of road traffic deaths where the road user group was defined,” Prinsloo said.

Conclusion: Road agency was wrong about pedestrian deaths

Ahead of the Easter holiday, a South African road agency posted a tweet claiming that 47% of road deaths were pedestrians. The data they provided did not support the claim.

According to the RTMC latest annual report, 38.4% of road deaths were pedestrians. Experts say that road traffic deaths are likely underestimated, however. A 2009 study of post-mortem reports estimated that pedestrians accounted for 40% of road traffic deaths.

Africa Check notified the road agency of the error and they have deleted the tweet.

 

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