Roads of carnage

Roads of carnage

Rose Moremoholo & Luciah Phahla

MASERU

’MATHATO Lekhutle was asleep in the teensy hours of July 16 when she was startled by a loud bang. A car had rammed into her house in St Michael’s.

“The driver seemed drunk,” she says as she narrates how the car destroyed almost everything in her tiny kitchen.

The driver sustained serious injuries on the head and right arm.

A week earlier in Kolonyama five people died when their bus burst a tyre, veered off the road and crashed into a roadside escapement.  A herd boy in the nearby veld also lost his life.

Police spokesperson Superintendent Clifford Molefe says preliminary investigations indicate that the bus was overloaded and speeding. It is suspected most of the dead had been tossed out through the windscreen and then run over by the bus.

A few minutes later another accident happened in Ha-Leqele in Maseru where a sedan taxi collided head on with a minibus. The driver of the sedan spent gruelling moments trapped behind the steering wheel before being rushed to a local hospital where he is said to be in critical condition.

And so the carnage on our roads continues. Between 2006 and 2010 some 1 593 died in road accidents, although it is possible that the figure could be higher given the patchy nature of the statistics and that some accidents are never recorded.

Several initiatives to make roads safer have failed to turn the tide but authorities have not given up trying.

Last week the Road Safety Department announced a seven-member National Road Safety Council whose main mandate is to reduce accidents by setting road safety goals and priorities.

The multi-sectoral council will be responsible for drawing road safety plans and to coordinate all organisations involved in road safety programmes.

The council consists of the commissioner of police, principal secretaries of health, transport and education. An official from the Road Safety department, a member of the Road Transport Board and a representative of private vehicle owners complete the seven-member council.

According to statistics from the Road Safety Department and the police Lesotho had 4 274 accidents in 2007. In 2013 that number jumped to 5 538 before coming down slightly to 5 236 in 2015.

The report from the department and the police says December has the highest number of fatalities followed by April and March.

In 2015, Qacha’s Nek recorded the highest in deaths at 23.2 percent followed by Mokhotlong with 15.2 percent where the lowest was Mohale’s Hoek with 5.6 percent.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says 486 Basotho died in road accidents in 2014. That means 1.79 percent of total deaths in that year were due to road accidents.

Molefe says the reason that there is an increase in every district in the number of deaths and accidents in December and April is because they are holiday months associated with an increase in alcohol abuse.

“People drive recklessly during these times. They drive drunk, they speed and they do not have patience when there is traffic jam,” Molefe says.

The statistics show that males from the age of 15 to 34 years cause accidents more than people of other age groups whereas women start contributing more in road accidents from the age of 35 to 60 years.

“We know that the ages of 15 to 34 are youthful years and the reason we have accidents caused by males at this age is simply that they are very curious and daring than any age,” Molefe says.

He says males at this age want to be seen as skilled drivers “and they don’t want to be overtaken or even allow other cars to be in front of theirs”.

He says women below 35 are considered cautious drivers. That trend however changes dramatically when women are over 35, he says.

“They drive under a lot of stress and this distorts their subconscious minds so much that they are not aware of what is happening around where they drive or even forget that they are driving”.

“A lot of depression and stress is among the women aged 35 upwards,” Molefe says.

It’s not only local authorities who are concerned about our dangerous roads.

The US Bureau of Diplomatic Security in a document titled Lesotho 2015 Crime and Safety Report says “driving is one of the biggest risks to personal safety and security in Lesotho”.

The report, targeted at US citizens who want to travel to Lesotho, says many vehicles are not roadworthy and not all drivers are properly trained.

“It is common to come up behind a vehicle moving at little more than a crawl or to encounter vehicles that pull out onto the roadway without looking or leaving the necessary distance for their acceleration,” the report says.

The report says what contributes to road accidents are poorly illuminated roadways, roadways in a state of disrepair, inexperienced/irresponsible (often under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance) drivers, pedestrian traffic, wandering livestock, and intense rain.

“Insobriety is a significant contributing factor to many accidents, particularly in the evening, at weekends, and month’s end (payday),” the report says.

“Drivers frequently change lanes into oncoming traffic without looking and expect others to take evasive manoeuvres to compensate. Street lighting is very poor and frequently non-existent,” the report says.

“Even if the road appears fenced, people leave gates open so livestock can feed along the sides of the road. Younger animals are particularly dangerous as they are skittish,” it warns.

Transport Minister Tšoeu Mokeretla says the inauguration of the council is of historic importance which holds hope for the safety of the lives of Basotho on the roads.

“With so many diverse qualities of skills in the council there will surely be an improvement in road safety,” Mokeretla says.

RETSELISITSOE MASELI was involved in an accident when his vehicle rammed into 'Mathato 's House in St Macheal's in Ha Maama two weeks ago

RETSELISITSOE MASELI was involved in an accident when his vehicle rammed into ‘Mathato ‘s House in St Macheal’s in Ha Maama two weeks ago

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