SA battles to halt Easter car carnage

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The Independent Online
A SOUTH AFRICAN Easter weekend means just one thing: carnage on the roads. Last Easter 308 people died in 221 accidents in a five-day period. This year Arrive Alive, a government road safety offensive which achieved startling improvements over Christmas, South Africa's other carnage festival, is being put to its severest test.

Paramedics call Easter South Africa's lemming season. It is a briefer, more concentrated holiday than Christmas with everyone rushing long distances to the coast to catch the butt end of summer.

It does not help that more than a million pilgrims also take to the roads this weekend in minibus taxis and buses for the annual get-together of the Zionist Church in Moira, near Pietersburg.

The Easter weekend only accentuates the dangers that exist all year round on South African roads, which claim 10,000 lives every year and 50,000 injuries, costing incalculable human suffering and an estimated 12 billion rand to the economy.

Newcomers are left breathless by the appalling standard of driving, the poor state of vehicles and the risks taken on the roads, particularly by drivers of ramshackle minibus taxis which cut each other up in the vicious competition for customers.

According to Moira Winslow, a road safety campaigner, South Africa has the world's third-highest road death rate after the United States and Japan though it boasts far fewer cars on the road.

Arrive Alive focuses on speed, alcohol and seat belt wearing and aims to saturate the highways with traffic cops. Ten years after the introduction of compulsory seatbelt wearing only 50 per cent of motorists belt up.

Drink-driving is almost a way of life. Of last year's Easter fatal accidents alcohol contributed in 31 per cent of cases.