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Pro-Life is about more than the death sentence and the unborn

The loss of life suffered on South African roads, indeed internationally, is frightening and of escalating global concern. For Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya any loss of, or danger to, life should be given the same weight as any other pro-life concern. He questions why this is, seemingly, not the case.

Imagine, if everyone knew for sure that during the Easter weekend at least three Boeings would crash killing at least 150 people with every crash, as happened with Ethiopian Airlines recently. Hard to imagine, right? And, we would spare no effort to prevent this from happening, over and over again.

Yet, about 500 people are expected to die in road fatalities over the same period, every year in South Africa

Last year 510 people died on South African roads over the Easter weekend. And, similarly, 449 died the previous year.

While everyone hopes that this year the numbers will decrease, the behaviour on the roads and a lack in new ways of dealing with behaviour on our roads, suggests that we can only hope and pray that things will not be even worse than previous years.

When Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crashed the morning of 10 March 2019 killing all 157 people on board, the world, not just aviation experts, started asking questions and demanding answers.

Social media was awash with memes paying respect to the victims of the fatal crash.

These deaths called for much soul searching and provoked outrage around the world. Airport companies, aviation regulators and flight companies suspended the use of Boeing planes while they probed into what could have caused the crash — just minutes after it left Addis Ababa for Nairobi.

For some reason, road deaths have become an acceptable way of life. They do not arouse as much public outcry or sympathy as a plane crash. That too is a little understandable. Air crashes are rare and oddity is an element of what constitutes news.

Still, it is an unfortunate attitude to have about the loss of life, especially for those who profess to be pro-life. 

Road deaths are not only a South African or, indeed, an African pandemic. The problem is an international one. It’s time we simply stop accepting this as an inevitable way of life.

The World Health Organisation last year noted that road traffic accidents had become the eighth leading cause of death worldwide killing about 1.4 million people a year.

By comparison, a WHO report issued in May 2018 recorded that one million died of HIV/Aids. The number of road deaths is significantly higher than that of individuals killed by HIV/Aids. 

Unlike road deaths, HIV/Aids, which accounted for 1 million deaths in 2016, compared to 1,5 million in 2000, is no longer among the top 10 killers in the world.

“The death rate from diarrhoeal diseases decreased by almost 1 million between 2000 and 2016, but still caused 1.4 million deaths in 2016. Similarly, the number of tuberculosis deaths decreased during the same period, but is still among the top 10 causes with a death toll of 1.3 million,” the WHO said in the May 2018 report.

But, there is another element to road deaths. Toxic masculinity.

Although patriarchal attitudes often seek to portray women as bad or indecisive drivers, the facts show that it is men and boys that are more likely to die on the roads.

The WHO statistics mentioned above, also reveal that tout of the 1.4 million people killed on the roads in 2016, about three-quarters (74%) were men and boys.

Bad driving unfortunately also kills those who have no say in the matter and tragically cuts potential life spans. More than 440,000 people who died on the roads in 2016 were between five and twenty-nine years old.

Anecdotally, one is more likely to encounter men racing against other men, as seen by illegal street racing and the familiar revving of engines at stop streets to prove who is a faster driver or has a faster car.

Much as road deaths are a common feature of modern life, people of faith might want to look at road deaths from another angle: as a pro-life issue.

The unfortunate view of many Christians is that being pro-life concerns the unborn, and the prerogative of states to kill certain types of criminals. And, not always a holistic approach to seeing all life as precious, worth preserving and allowing to fulfil its potential.

To be indifferent to the lives of those who survive abortion or do not face the death penalty must pose doubts about the said commitment to life.

It cannot be right that road deaths continue climbing and are more common than malaria, TB or HIV and humanity shrugs its collective shoulders as though there is nothing anyone can do about it.

“Road safety is an issue that does not receive anywhere near the attention it deserves,” said Michael Bloomberg, CEO of Bloomberg Philanthropies and the WHO’s global ambassador for non-communicable diseases and injuries.

“We know which interventions work. Strong policies and enforcement, smart road design, and powerful public awareness campaigns can save millions of lives over the coming decades.”

Road deaths are completely unnecessary and absolutely preventable. Unlike the other top ten killers in the world where we can blame socioeconomic policies or genetic misfortune, every person on the road has the capability within themselves to prevent the death of another by changing their own behaviour.

It is encouraging that world leaders have incorporated non-communicable diseases and injuries as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) priorities demanding urgent attention.

At the present rate, it is unlikely that the priority of cutting global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents in half, will be met by 2020.

But, looking at it more positively, each of us can do something to ensure that if this this target is not reached it is narrowly missed. 

Our behaviour on the road tells its own story about the value we place on life. 

While we may or may not have the temperament or the language to argue for this in terms of the pro-life movement, how we drive on and use our roads could send a clear message about where we stand on this matter of life and death.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.