Emergency services report an unusual increase in pre-festive season road deaths, with failure to wear seat-belts, speeding, driver fatigue and alcohol use cited as major contributing factors.
"There has been a disconcerting increase in the number of deadly accidents around the country in recent weeks," says Peter Feurstein, Operations Director of Netcare 911.
"This unusual spate of accidents appears to be occurring earlier in the season compared to previous years. Many of the incidences we have attended to in recent weeks point to recklessness and in many cases the victims were not wearing seatbelts," he adds.
Mande Toubkin, Netcare Group Manager Emergency and Trauma, concurs: "In our experience around half of South Africans are still not wearing seatbelts. It’s particularly disturbing how many parents don’t buckle their children up. This despite the fact that seatbelts have been scientifically proven to protect children and adults during motor vehicle accidents. In my view, not buckling up children is neglectful."
Toubkin attributes the cause of accidents to speeding, driver fatigue, unroadworthy vehicles and alcohol abuse.
'Not unlike a guided missile'
"Even moderate amounts of alcohol substantially slows reactions. Alcohol also causes reckless behaviour. In irresponsible hands a motor vehicle is not unlike a guided missile," says Toubkin.
He asserts that speed limits and roadworthiness regulations are there for a reason. "The faster one travels, the less time one has to respond. Roadworthiness is also vital: worn tyres and brake pads may, for example, compromise our ability to control our vehicle and bring it to a rapid stop. Worn shock absorbers negatively affect vehicle handling."
Toubkin says the costs of road accidents are enormous. Not only is there the cost of vehicle damage, but many individuals are injured and maimed in accidents. They may have to spend long periods in hospital and sometimes require rehabilitation. Some are not able to work again. Then there is the emotional distress caused to the accident victims and their families.
"The scars of an accident can run very deep," observes Toubkin.
If you are involved in or come across a serious motor vehicle accident or other emergency situation, know what to do:
Keep crucial personal information on you when you are driving or out in public. This allows emergency medical personnel to assist you more quickly if you are involved in an accident. Having emergency numbers to hand also helps you make that call and ensure a rapid response to the emergency.
"At an accident scene, emergency medical personnel’s first aim is to ensure patients’ safety," notes Feurstein. "Once patients have been assessed and stabilised, paramedics try to identify them and obtain as much medical information about them as possible. They may also try to contact their families to obtain such information. This is tricky if patients are unconscious, which is why it is important to always keep your personal information with you."
If you are in or witness to a serious accident, call the correct emergency number as soon as possible:
South African Police flying squad: call 10111.
Medical emergencies: call Netcare 911 on 082 911.
Save these numbers on your cell phone and try to memorise them.
Road safety tips from Netcare 911:
Stay alert and don’t let yourself get sidetracked by cell phones or other distractions. Distracted driving is a killer.
Get an adequate amount of quality sleep before setting off on a long journey.
Don’t drink alcohol
Avoid eating heavy foods which can make you sleepy.
If you are on medication, make sure it won’t impair your driving abilities.
Stop and take a break at least every two hours.
If possible, drive with a companion with whom you can switch driving when you start feeling tired.
Chat with your passengers to help stay alert – although not to the extent that they distract you.
Keep the temperature in your vehicle cool; a warm environment tends to cause lethargy.
Check blind spots and "read" road and traffic conditions continually. Don’t only keep your eye on the vehicle ahead of you.
(- Adapted from a press release by Netcare and Netcare 911, Health24, December 2010)