Recent road accidents along various stretches of the R43 and R44 in the Overstrand have once again shone the spotlight on speed limits in the Overberg district. The fact that one of these accidents involved the near-death of a friend has made this issue even more personal.
Our country’s abysmal road accident statistics are clear. According to the World Health Organisation, South Africa has one of the world’s poorest road safety records, with ± 31.9 fatalities/100 000 people in 2010.
For African countries, the average fatality rate is ± 24.1 fatalities/100 000 people, while globally, the average is ± 18 fatalities/100 000 people. In South Africa, approximately 1 million road accidents are reported per year.
Last year, the French government, despite the opposition of 86% of rural residents, reduced the speed limit from 90 km/h to 80 km/h on single-carriageway rural roads that lack a central strip of land between the opposing lanes – the type of roads mostly found in the Overberg.
What was the reason for this unpopular reduction? Quite simply, economics. The French weighed up the costs and benefits and found that the sums came out in favour of a lower limit.
In other words, using a value of human life figure of Euro 3 million, the French worked out that the 300 – 400 lives that would be saved from the speed reduction were more important for the economic growth of the country than if they had died.
Such cost-benefit analyses may seem cold-hearted, but balanced against many drivers’ “need for speed”, it is a logical way of looking at the issue.
I suggest that if a similar analysis was done here in the Overberg, the conclusions would be the same: that saving lives is better for the economy. In 2012, the Organisation for Economic and Cultural Development worked out a mean value of human life in South Africa, for adults of R12.1 million and R24.2 million for children.
But apart from such a clinical approach, plenty of studies have been done on the economic and lifestyle benefits of reducing speed limits that should be of particular interest to Overberg residents.
- An increase in the number of cyclists on the road.
- Reduced air pollution.
- Reduced fuel consumption.
- Reduced noise pollution.
- Increased property values.
- Higher spending on retail and services.
This is not an argument for uniform speed limits across all roads. Research shows that speed limits should be determined by the road conditions and that increasing speed limits in urban areas or on national roads can also be beneficial. Rather, the argument is that reduced speed limits, especially on single-lane roads and in rural towns, would be beneficial economically.
In the Overstrand, Facebook opinion polls are clearly split down the middle, with 50% either for or against reducing speed limits on the R43.
Perhaps now is the time, given the economic doldrums the country is in, to depersonalise the arguments around speed limits and rather focus on the economic benefits that reduced speed limits can bring to rural economies.