Dicing with death on South Africa’s notorious road system

Almost 13,000 people die each year with the N2 being its most dangerous deathtrap

The captivating beauty of the landscape through which South Africa's N2 highway winds its way from Cape Town in the Western Cape to Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, undermines the reality that it is one of the world's most dangerous roads.

Unless you are aware of how dangerous South African roads are, it may be hard to believe that you are putting your life at significant risk by driving along the N2, as nature in all its finery is flashing by either side of your car windows.

Yet the annual road death report compiled by South Africa’s Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) makes for grim reading when it comes to the country’s roads in general, but especially the N2 highway.

It lists six sections of the 2,255 kilometre-long N2 among the top 25 most dangerous roads in the country, with on average three road fatalities recorded on them every day, which amounts to 1,095 over a 12-month period.


The number of fatalities recorded annually along the whole length of the road is in the thousands. In total, nearly 13,000 road users die annually in crashes in South Africa.

The Road Traffic Management Report for 2015 says there were 10,613 fatal crashes recorded last year, which accounted for 12,944 deaths. Of those, 37.6 per cent were pedestrians. This is an improvement on recent years when the death toll was about 14,000.

Major incidents

Of the fatal crashes in 2015, there were 130 major incidents reported and investigated, in which 763 people were killed and a further 778 sustained injuries.

“Out of 130 major crashes, 36.9 per cent of the crashes occurred as a result of head-on crashes, followed by multiple vehicle crashes with a contribution of 23.8 per cent and vehicles overturned with 18.5 per cent,” the report stated.

Statistically speaking South Africa has only the 42nd highest road mortality rate in the world, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), with 25.1 road deaths per 100,000 people. But these figures are much higher than the world average of 17.5 and more than twice the European average of 9.3.

Alcohol consumption and speeding are two of the major contributors to road traffic deaths, according to local authorities across the country. The WHO’s global status report on road safety for 2015 puts road deaths in South Africa involving alcohol at 58 per cent, the highest in the world.

Road safety organisation Arrive Alive said last year that a recent clampdown on traffic crimes found that a large portion of drivers around Johannesburg neglected to wear a seat-belt, which is one of the leading causes of fatalities on the road.

Serious challenge

While traffic police are highly visible on major highways and roads around Christmas and public holidays, the WHO scores South African police’s enforcement of the national speed limit and drink-driving laws at only three and four out of 10 respectively.

Alida Jones, director of road safety awareness organisation Drive More Safely's director, told Independent News & Media last year that the country had good legislation for road safety, but enforcement was a serious challenge.

“South Africa has become a lawless nation where many will do anything to get out of trouble. Bribery and corruption play a big role and need to be stopped for enforcement to be effective,” she reportedly said.

A recently released RTMC report found that the total cost of road traffic crashes (RTCs) on South Africa’s road network for 2015 amounted to an estimated 142.95 billion rand (€9.274 billion), equating to a massive 3.4 per cent of the country’s GDP.

“Human casualty costs comprised 69.3 per cent of the total RTC cost of ZAR142.95 billion, with vehicle repair accounting for 14.9 per cent of the total and incident costs 15.8 per cent,” the report said.

Last month, minister for transport Dipuo Peters said South Africa was unlikely to meet the UN target of halving the country's road deaths between 2011 and 2020, despite the government's efforts to curb the carnage.

However, she maintained the department of transport would continue to put in place measures to increase drivers’ compliance with the rules of the road and to fight corruption within the ranks of the traffic police in terms of bribery, among other things.

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South Africa