By Mohao Mohao
In the era when vehicles are increasingly being fitted with even more safety features, one would think fewer people would be meeting their fate in road accidents.
With Anti-lock braking system (ABS), among numerous other features, and up to six airbags, some vehicle manufactures will claim their products are the safest among their competitors.
But has the casualty rate on our roads lessened?
Some might think I’m asking a crazy question since vehicle numbers have multiplied many times over hence accidents and deaths are bound to multiply as well.
Yes, the volume of traffic has increased but so has the number of reckless lunatics posing as drivers.
The festive season often does not turn out to be festive for some families as recklessness has come to characterise some people’s driving habits.
Those drivers who possibly think driving a car is an extension of their previous existence when they used to drive a flock of sheep through the kraal entrance have turned our roads into a nightmare.
As December rolls on, so will the frequency of the shattering news of loved ones whose fate has been cruelly determined by impatient and reckless motorists.
Unless the automobile is seriously unroadworthy or experiences an unexpected mechanical fault, it is often the drivers who are to blame for most road accidents.
Even unroadworthiness should be blamed on the vehicle owners as they often turn a blind eye on defects which need immediate attention.
Even 10 airbags will not protect a lunatic who overtakes on a barrier line at 160km/h and ends up under the belly of an oncoming twenty-six wheel lorry.
So attitude, more than anything else, is the one aspect that needs to seriously change if our roads are to be safer.
As was suggested in a previous editorial of this paper, recklessness needs to be punished with much heavier penalties than is currently happening.
Our traffic fines are just too low to deter those who seem hell-bent on spoiling the mood of other road users and turning our roads into constant death scenes.
Like in other countries, the driving licence must lose points following each traffic offence and eventually be suspended or immediately confiscated in more serious cases, especially those involving drunk driving or hitting a pedestrian at a zebra crossing.
The attitude of some of our drivers is utterly disgusting.
Some will brazenly drive through a red robot as if it is meant for decoration or birds to build their nests.
Others will not stop at a zebra crossing even when pedestrians are already in motion attempting to cross. These shameless habits can only be deterred with harsher fines.
Lesotho, sadly, still remains a country where many simply do as they like. They have long discovered how easy it is to literally get away with murder here.
I have previously written about the truck menace on our roads whose over-spilling loads of crushed stone have turned our driving experiences into living hell.
A week ago I was travelling to Mafeteng when, between Ha Moruthoane and Ha ’Majane, I came across tons of crushed stone that had apparently been spilled by a lorry travelling in the direction of Maseru.
The double lanes to Mafeteng were largely safe but I instantly noticed that the safety of unsuspecting motorists going to Maseru would be endangered. There was no one immediately attending to this mess and whoever spilled it had simply driven on.
When I returned from Mafeteng, this same spot was a hive of activity with the police standing by while staff from the Ministry of Public Works and Transport were sweeping the stones off the road.
Unfortunately their clean-up operation was belated as a result of an accident involving two vehicles which had skidded off the road.
The other was South African registered and carrying non-locals.
Think of Lesotho’s negative international reputation resulting from this!
Never underestimate the power of the word of mouth. Tourism could seriously stagnate unless we tighten our safety standards.
I stopped and approached the police officers by the road brandishing a copy of Lesotho Times and referred them to my previous article on dangers posed by uncovered trucks transporting crushed stone.
I was mad that yet another unnecessary accident had occurred due to utter stupidity.
The wife of a prominent lawyer (a lawyer too herself) had parked nearby and was talking to one of the police officers and she told me she had read the article but the officer had not.
He politely told me no one in this country pays attention to suggestions from lowly people like him; this was an issue they had repeatedly attempted to address but to no avail.
The lady lawyer told me her husband had in fact sued the Ministry of Public Works and Transport following a similar accident where spilled crushed stone had nearly killed him.
It was high time, she told me, someone took responsibility for this shameless attitude by truck drivers and owners.
I supported their move to sue the Ministry and quietly hoped, whatever the outcome, relevant authorities would start taking the lives of road users seriously.
It cannot continue to be business as usual when lives are at stake; we would be a very negligent country to allow this impunity to persist even though lives have previously been lost.
I will end my rant with a direct question to the Minister of Works and Public Transport, Keketso Rantšo.
When will your Ministry rein in on these truck drivers and owners?
I have happily noticed we now have a government that responds directly to citizens’ concerns.
The Minister of Development Planning Dr Moeketsi Majoro has already set the example promptly responding to an open letter directed to him.
I’ll be looking forward to your assurance that our roads are about to get safer.
- Mahao Mahao is a lecturer in the Faculty of Education at the National University of Lesotho