South African roads are deadly. Every day 45 people are killed, 410 people are injured and 25 people are paralysed in traffic accidents. These statistics mean South Africa has some of the highest rates of road deaths in the world, surpassing HIV/AIDS and malaria as the number one killer of young people in the country.
Road accidents in South Africa are caused by many factors, says Levona Van Aarde of the South African Red Cross Society. "Accidents are caused by unqualified and inexperienced drivers, unroadworthy vehicles, speed, driver fatigue and impatience. Driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs is a huge contributor to the problem," she says.
Fatalities on the road don't just affect drivers and passengers in cars; 3,000 pedestrians are also killed in road accidents annually.
Focused on preventing deaths, the South African Red Cross Society is taking a leading role in promoting road safety across the country as part of the Global Road Safety Partnership. Van Aarde says first-aid training is a major part of their road safety activities. "It is likely that civilians will be on the scene before medical personnel; we want to empower people with basic first aid so they have skills to assist with helping to treat others," she says.
She stresses the importance of training younger drivers in first aid. As younger people tend to have higher rates of alcohol consumption, they are the group most at risk of injury and death from traffic accidents.
"Since January 2013, 20 new youth groups trained in first aid and road safety have been established. We also teach about road safety and alcohol abuse awareness in schools," Van Aarde says. Partnerships with local communities have been created to address road safety, mainly involving first aid.
Another initiative involves the establishment of walking school buses, where groups of children walk together to school assisted by local Red Cross volunteers. Walking buses are often used to combat childhood obesity, reduce carbon emissions and promote physical activity, but in South Africa the walking buses are used primarily to protect children from dangerous drivers.
In Mpumalanga, a province prone to road accidents due to the busy road links to Mozambique and Swaziland, the South African Red Cross Society has also been working to limit the impact of road accidents. Njabulo Mnguni, coordinator for the Safe Roads for Youth Project, says training members of the public in first aid is crucial because there are not enough emergency medical professionals to cope with the number of accidents in the province.
To mark World First Aid Day 2013, with its focus on road safety, the South African Red Cross Society is launching a roadside campaign, with volunteers conducting road safety activities and first-aid demonstrations across the Western Cape region.