By Felix Tjozongoro
Namibia has had enough road safety conferences to discuss what can be done to reduce the carnage on our roads. Various experts have given their opinions and suggestions, on what can be done.
The reality is that we are losing, on average, two people per day. That number has been almost constant over the past years, and we have not seen any reduction.
Perhaps one should not forget to look at the NaTIS statistics, with regard to vehicle registrations or introductions into Namibia. Lately we have seen a huge influx of vehicles in Namibia. Almost every second house in Namibia has a car. With the assistance of cheaper vehicles from China and other Eastern countries, more and more people are able to acquire and own a car.
However, I am of the opinion that the majority of these new car owners don’t have the necessary skills to drive a car.
There is a huge difference between driving a car and moving a car. Moving of cause is being able to move the car, say from Okahandja to Otjiwarongo, safely. But should that vehicle get a puncture at a speed of 120km/h, our new car owners would not know what to do, and this would sometimes result in a fatal accident. Not only should we look at punctures, but since Namibia is a “huge game park”, we have wild animals that freely roam on our highways. Again I am of the view that should a warthog, or even in a worst case scenario, a rabbit, run in the road; our new drivers will end up rolling their new cars.
Now it raises the question as to who should certify our new car owners, that they are fit to drive a vehicle.
Of course most of them drive illegally, with only learners licences, as our law enforcement doesn’t have enough resources to police them. At the same time, you can’t expect NaTIS to test them thoroughly and ensure that they are good drivers, because NaTIS follows a prescribed testing standard, which does not include testing people’s driving skills at night, does not include testing people on a gravel road, does not include testing people at high speed, and so on. Thus you can actually say that drivers who pass through NaTIS should only be limited to city or town driving.
Maybe it’s about time we look at our entire driver’s licence system. Our drivers should be forced to go through trusted institutions, such as the vocational training centres (VTCs), so that they can be properly educated on how to drive a vehicle. The VTCs should be the new driving schools, as our current driving schools have failed to produce trusted drivers.
At the same time, we should stop the practice of someone obtaining a truck licence today and tomorrow such a person is put behind the wheel of a massive killing machine that he hardly knows how to control adequately, just simply because he has a licence. Let’s introduce a graduated driving licence system, where a person should start with a small car licence, and drive for about three years, before that person can graduate to a medium licence with a trailer or caravan. Again after another three years, such a person can graduate to a truck licence. Graduated licensing has produced better drivers than what we have on Namibian roads.
Another contributing factor that has been overlooked greatly by all in road safety is the tyres that we keep importing.
I don’t know why our ministers of transport and trade and industry cannot meet and find a way to ban the importing of tyres from China or colder countries.
Most of these second hand tyres that are cheaply sold to our people are designed and meant to be used in countries that have low temperatures.
Such tyres don’t last in Namibia and its scorching hot weather. In the end, they end up bursting and causing serious and fatal accidents.
Not only is the tyre make an issue, but also the age of the tyres.
Tyres have a lifespan of four years and these dates are imprinted on them. Now, why should our customs officials allow Namibia to be a dumping ground of expired tyres, which end up killing our people?
It’s time our Namibian government authorities to act on this and ban all tyres not meant for our type of weather, and also ban the import of old and expired tyres.
I know that we have a huge challenge with resources at the National Road Safety Council (NRSC), in terms of manpower.
The NRSC is the only custodian of road safety in this country, and it should be supported by all other government and private sector entities.
But how do you expect the NRSC to effectively run road safety matters, when they have a small staff complement of about 10 people? If the honourable minister of transport is serious about curbing road fatalities, then the first thing to do in 2018 is to ensure that the NRSC has enough manpower.
For that matter, the minister should even consider outsourcing road safety to the regions. Each regional governor should have at least 10 staff that deals with road safety in the regions.
Only if we adequately staff the NRSC and outsource road safety to the regions, we can start talking about seriously addressing road safety issues and reducing the fatality rates within regions, and finally within the country.
Whilst addressing the plight of the NRSC, we should also find an avenue where the NRSC can team up with our universities and seriously conduct research on road safety.
We should do away with thumb-suck approaches, where we assume the causes of accidents without proper research.
Our universities would surely want to be engaged, so that they can do res e a r c h and deliver informed papers.
I am also challenging the NRSC to start using the data from the Road Management System (RMS) of the Roads Authority.
The RMS has traffic counts on most of the roads in Namibia. They know how many cars are travelling between, say Okahandja and Otjiwarongo, on a daily, hourly or weekly basis, and so on. They can tell which times of the year there is huge influx and even can tell at which speed most of the cars are travelling. Once they analyse this data, the NRSC can than advice the Nampol Traffic Unit where to focus their road safety efforts. In this way, it will be targeted approach, and not just thumb-suck approach.
Another challenge that falls to the minister of transport is the fact that aircraft accidents falling under his ministry are thoroughly investigated by a team appointed by the minister. These are experts who know what to look for, and they present a well-documented report to the minister on the possible causes of such an accident, and with recommendations on what should be done to avoid future accidents.
Now the aviation industry might criticise me for this, but I don’t understand the logic between an accident involving a six-seater Cessna plane worth N$2 million dollars with six people on board that all loses their lives, compared to an accident between a Scania truck and its semi-trailer, with a combined value of N$5 million (excluding its cargo that might be worth N$10 million), that crashes with a bus carrying 20 people, where in that accident we lose about 15 lives. With the plane accident, immediately a team of experts are dispatched to investigate what happened, whilst the bus and truck accident only gets the minister to read a speech on TV and it is case closed.
Honourable minister of transport, these are both transport modes and should be treated fairly. Please expand the mandate of your aircraft investigation team to start investigating car crashes or create an equally important team within your ministry to also do the same role. Once you have all the facts on your table, regarding the causes of accidents, then only will you take informed decisions on how to reduce road crashes.
The Namibian Defence Force (NDF) has enough resources, in the form of vehicles and ambulances, which should be deployed, especially during festive season, such as this one.
Therefore, I would call upon the Commander-in-Chief, being His Excellency President Hage Geingob, to order the army to assist the police with road safety. The NDF Act makes provision for this, and therefore it should not be difficult for His Excellency to call in the police inspector-general and the army commander and give the order, and then let the two generals’ work out the modalities on how to go about it. Comrade President, I am looking at a scenario where an army vehicle with a blue light drives, say from Okahandja to Otjiwarongo, at a speed of 120km/h.
Anyone that overtakes such a vehicle should be speeding and the army could pull them off and call the traffic police to come issue the relevant fine or reprimand.
Or anyone that overtakes such a vehicle, such information could be relayed by the army vehicle to the nearest police checkpoint, which will pull over such a driver and warn them properly.
Comrade President, these are short-term measures that do not need parliament to change any laws. The provisions are there in the laws and we should just act. Believe me, you will see a reduction in road crashes, and hopefully arrest the spiralling road fatalities. Namibians have been burying their loved ones every weekend, due to road crashes, and this should surely give you sleepless nights, at times.
*Felix Tjozongoro is a road safety activist and road accident investigator. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015