Safer Spaces: The impact of a reduction in road fatalities on the life expectancy of South Africans

Liliana de Abreu and Anke Hoeffler - Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP18/2020

Worldwide about 1.35 million people are killed and about 50 million are injured on the roads every year. This accounts for almost a quarter of all injury and violence-related deaths globally (WHO: Global status report on road safety, 2018). In recognition of this global problem, the UN Agenda for Sustainable Development has set specific targets on road safety (SDG target 3.6). Road safety is a challenge everywhere but South Africa has a particularly high fatality rate (we estimate 33 per 100,000), making road traffic injuries (RTIs) one of the top ten causes of death. In our paper we determine the cost of fatalities resulting from RTIs in South Africa by asking what the average life expectancy of South Africans would be if road safety targets had been met. First, using data from the Injury Mortality Survey we calculate actual life expectancy at birth. We then construct our counterfactual analysis by
assuming a reduction of 15% reduction per year in road fatalities for a period of 10 years. A comparison of the estimated actual and counterfactual life expectancies suggests that the average gain in life expectancy at birth would be 0.58 years. Since the overwhelming majority of road traffic fatalities are male (76%), there is a considerable gender difference. Men would gain 0.85 years while women would gain 0.30 years in life expectancy, closing the gender gap in life expectancy by about 14%. We then discuss how a reduction in RTIs could be achieved. Although South Africa’s legislation already covers all important aspects of road safety (e.g. seat belt use, drink driving restrictions, speed limits, infrastructure improvements), enforcement is relatively weak and should be improved. In addition to stricter enforcement, evidence from social science suggests that compliance could be increased through a change in social norms regarding road usage. A raft of interventions in other countries have been effective in modifying the behaviour of road users and in changing norms, suggesting that RTIs could be substantially decreased in South Africa.

Forthcoming in Accident Analysis and Prevention

Link to paper