Road safety. What road safety?
The Motor Vehicle Accident Fund is fighting a noble battle but it pains me to state, I think they are losing that battle. And there is only one reason: the pervasive recklessness, thoughtlessness, and ignorance when it comes to road manners, road usage, and observing safety.
It is certainly not stating the obvious that the majority of road users are law abiding citizens who stick to the rules and in general observe safe driving. But unfortunately, it is not the majority that causes the accidents but a few reckless people who drive without any regard for safety or other road users. It is this small percentage that is far too high as a ratio of the overall road user population.
In this week I received a ranking of the top ten countries with the highest number of fatalities per 100,000 individuals. Not surprisingly, Namibia is at the top of the list with 45 fatalities per hundred thousand people per year. That is a shocking statistic. The other top rankers are Thailand (44 deaths), Iran (38), Sudan (36), Swaziland (36), Venezuela (35), Congo (34), Malawi (32), the Dominican Republic (32) and Irag (32). It strikes one immediately that half of the top ten are African countries.
When a ranking like that is published, it does not help anybody to try and dispute the figures or question the credibility of the source. A similar ranking in 2014 based on the statistics from a UN agency was hotly contested by Namibian authorities. This did not solve the problem, nor did it reduce the number of people killed or maimed in road crashes. And for every single one of these incidents, the MVA Fund has to pick up the bill.
Earlier this week, an irate reader sent me an angry letter complaining how poor Namibian road manners are in general. I do not agree with that sentiment since my own observations underscore the fact that only a minority of road users is dangerous. For the most, my experience shows me the regular driver sticks to the rules, and generally avoids dangerous behaviour. It is the small number of wildcats that is too big a minority, hence the horrible top position (again) in the latest ranking.
Nobody who has assisted at the site of a crash will ever again flaunt traffic rules. The sight of bleeding, injured and dying people is simply too horrific for most people to stomach. The only problems is, the reckless either die in the accident themselves, or they carry on with happy abandon, after they have caused a serious crash.
As a developing country, I think we have to accept that road fatalities will be higher than the average. If a driver only started driving yesterday, with today’s fast cars, it must be expected that inexperience will at some point take its toll. If that driver is using a fake or forged driver’s license, the opportunity for disaster is so much bigger.
It always amazes me when driving between Windhoek and Okahandja or between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay, that so many drivers stay in the queue and only overtake when it is really safe. But then it amazes me even more that an uncomfortably high number of reckless drivers will simply overtake regardless of the conditions or the speed limit.
In the past, I have often castigated law enforcement as lacking in their effort but I also no longer share this view. The solution is simple. In a country where every citizen is a model of dependability, no single individual will endanger the lives of his compatriots. Therefore, if road users are civilised, only the odd incident should occur and only due to unforeseen circumstances.
This is not the case with us. Accidents take place on a daily basis due to ignorance, inexperience, wilful reckless driving, high speed, and all to often, driving under the influence of alcohol. Again, this is not anecdotal, it is based on my own observations.
The only logical deduction from said observations is that we are not civilised, informed, experienced, mindful of traffic rules, and or sober when we drive. Or at least, there are too many of us who are not, at any given time. Otherwise very few of the crashes would have happened.
So what can we do? I am afraid not much. As long as too many people do not understand the basic rule that a white line on the surface of a black road is a traffic ordinance, then how can we hope for the much-punted Rule of Law to save us from stupidity?
We shall continue to die on the roads and the MVA Fund will continue to lose millions for as long as too many people believe they, and they alone, have the right to undermine road safety. Until, such time, all the campaigns are just so much hot air. The solution lies with each and every individual driver, but for that to be effective, a major change in the mindset of the reckless must first occur.