By: Thandiwe Kubere

The rate of injuries and deaths incurred on the road is no doubt a disturbing matter. What happens on the roads affects everyone who uses them, whether as drivers, passengers or pedestrians. Shockingly, studies reveal 1.35 million people die from road traffic injuries worldwide every year. Those who lose their lives are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children or friends.

As a way of improving road safety in Lesotho, the Ministry of Public works and Transport (MPWT) held an evaluation meeting on the Road Safety Christmas campaign which commenced on November 27th right through to January 5th, when traffic seemingly increases, people commuting to and from their homes to celebrate the festive season.

Giving her opening remarks, the Director of Road Safety Dr Kikini Mathews declared road accidents are the leading cause of death for children and young people between the ages of 5 and 29 years old.

“The WHO African Region accounts for only 3% of registered vehicles globally, but the 20% of the road traffic deaths, with nearly 272 000 Africans dying on our roads each year- 40% of these causalities are pedestrians.”

Dr Mathews further enlightened that speed is a leading risk factor for road traffic deaths, and injuries. Evidence shows that lowering speed limits in urban areas reduces the risks of fatalities and keeps vulnerable road users safe, including pedestrians, cyclists, children, elders and people with disabilities.

“Overall, an increase in average speed of one kilometre per hour translates to a 3% risk of a crash and a 4% to 5% increase in fatalities. Most Countries in Africa have set the limit to 50km per hour in urban areas. However, on roads with high pedestrian and cyclist traffic, this is inadequate to save lives”, she said. She therefore, recommended 30km per hour speed limit around schools as it would help protect children and places with high pedestrian activity.

She also noted that many challenges remain, including lack of Road Safety policy, strengthening multi sectoral collaboration, gaining a political commitment and awareness-raising to make sure the public is sensitized, understands the purpose and act in line with traffic laws.

“The objective of the campaign we just completed on the 5th January 2024, was to reduce the effects of drunk driving and over-speeding, to that effect, the evaluation meeting is here to highlight how the impact was made and reached”, she said.

The objective of the campaign was to reduce the rate of deaths on the road and it operated under the theme, “Road Safety is everyone’s responsibility.” The campaign took place in the seven districts of Lesotho where accident incidents as well as fatalities are high. Those are; Butha Buthe, Leribe, Maseru urban and Maseru rural, Mafeteng, Berea, Mohale’s Hoek and Quthing.

Lesotho Defence Force Military Police Corporal Nalete declared different sectors collaborated to ensure that the campaign was effective and that traffic laws were adhered to. He declared that this was undertaken with the aim of reducing road injuries, damage of property and fatalities caused by over speeding, drinking and driving and overloads. Active steps in doing so included; enhancing proper use of safety belts, improving road behaviour and compliance through education and enforcement.

He declared challenges encountered along the way had to do with, shortages of spot fines devices and this slowed down the process.  The unavailability of speed traps while working in Maseru compromised the effectiveness of the campaign. Moreover, lack of educational or promotional material, such as pamphlets which play an important role in disseminating information also compromised on road traffic and safety education.

During the course of the campaign, his team found that some drivers do not adhere to speed limits, and others do not familiarize themselves with road signs, road traffic regulations and rules. Moreover, they came to the realization that there is a high number of catch-a-ride in Butha Butha and Maseru, where vehicle drivers illegally transport people to different destinations, and therefore jeopardizing the role and work of public transportation.

Presenting on other challenges encountered, Malimpho Chobokoane and Setsoto Putsoa from Road Safety declared most intoxicated drivers were below the legal limit, and so as much as they came across drunk drivers, they could not take any legal measures, except to warn them. Moreover he advised on having an absolute law because the Road Traffic Act which regulates alcohol content acceptable for drivers allows very high content. Again, there was ineffective mobile payment, which hindered the work. He mentioned there were passengers who lacked cooperation and disrupted the engagements claiming they were late.

They enlightened that some of the achievements accomplished during and after the campaign were; investigations indicated that road accidents and fatalities were significantly reduced, the number of catch-a-ride decreased, received reports of pleased drivers due to the education and a decrease in over-speeding was witnessed. Moreover, Chobokoane said the participation by Ministers and High Profile Officers made it a success. The presence of magistrates, prosecutors and road fund made the campaign effective.

Putsoa also stated they were pleased when realizing that many of the inspected vehicles were roadworthy. He noted that drivers were sensitized about repairing safety defects found in their vehicles so as to improve vehicle safety. The education imparted to both drivers and passengers was effective. “The campaign was an eye-opener to drivers about traffic laws and regulations about speed limits. The called awareness to the public about the existence of breathalysers prevented drunk driving.

The recommendations made were: to hold road safety campaigns every month, to invest in more spot fine equipment, to further educate the public about the importance of cooperating during road safety campaigns and daily road traffic checkpoints, to  revisit issues pertaining to updating the road traffic laws and regulations so as to enhance and enforce compliance.

Road Safety Research and Statistics, Mamonyane Taoana declared that even though Maseru urban and Leribe have the most fatalities, road accidents and injuries decreased in 2023. However, Adult pedestrian and child pedestrian injuries and deaths increased at an alarming rate. She noted they discovered a pattern of more accidents taking place between the hours of 4pm and 8pm, mostly caused by male drivers. According to studies, 78% of men over-speed and cause road accidents as compared to 22% women.

Closing the meeting, the Minister of Public Works and Transport, Hon. Matjato Moteane declared the country which has many road accidents is prone to a decline in economy. “Therefore, this is a step in the right direction, to have few fatalities as compared to the previous years”, he said. 

Hon. Moteane further applauded their dedication and strong work ethic regardless of the challenges, they worked diligently to reduce accidents on the road and to save more lives of Basotho.