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This year I pledge to be a better road user

Publishing Date : 16 January, 2017

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The beginning of a new year is generally a time of reflection and resolution making. Usually, resolutions are about changing negative behaviors, adopting positive ones, achieving goals, etc. many of us have already drawn up our resolutions for the year ahead - mapping out all that we want to achieve this year. But while drawing up our resolutions this year, how many of us thought to include the following resolution - “this year I pledge to be a better road user – not only to protect myself but the lives of other road users on our roads?”

I  know its probably not one of the most exciting new year's resolution to take this year but think about this, if your life is ruined by a road crash, if you are seriously injured, disabled or even killed then how will you tick off all the other resolutions this year?  This year, as Society of road safety ambassadors (SORSA), we pledge towards reaching citizens across the country, both young and old in a bid to not only drive awareness around responsible road behavior but to use this awareness to drive change on our roads. ).


We are also committed to looking at partnering with the government, private sector and church, to ensure we can drive broader awareness and continued focus on creating safer roads for all.  Reflecting upon the past year, I am most struck about the number of road crashes we had. The news and social media has been awash with reports of such road crashes across our roads in Botswana. Last time I checked, we had already lost 446 lives on the road as of end of year; an increase from the 2015 figures of 411 fatalities and 377 fatalities in 2014.

This increase in number of fatalities is a tragedy. After achieving the lowest fatalities on record in 2015 and 2014, we have now seen increases for two years in a row. (The 2016 road crash fatality statistics are preliminary at this stage and may change as a result of police investigations. The final statistics will be able to be confirmed later in the year.).


Mind you, It’s not about the numbers, it’s about individual people – mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandparents, neighbors, colleagues and friends, who needlessly lose their lives, creating a lifetime of sorrow and grieving for those left behind. I extend my sympathy to those who have lost loved ones and those who have suffered life changing injuries. Every death is tragic and will have brought enormous suffering to families, friends and communities.


It’s a fact that some families and communities across Botswana are starting a new year coping with the loss of loved ones killed in road accidents. For others involved in serious collisions, it can mean coping with life changing injuries requiring substantial medical care which can be very costly. They sometimes lose limbs and are often left with chronic pain, impaired mobility, and a reduced ability to function independently. This maiming can have a huge negative impact on one’s quality of life and well-being- both physically and mentally. Crash victims can experience anxiety, sleeplessness, post-traumatic stress, difficulty maintaining relationships, etc.

While we watch heartbreaking stories of people losing their precious lives, hoping it never involves our own families It’s time to make that New Year resolution to improve our driving. Those statistics have shown, once again, that we all need to pledge towards being more responsible road users to address this. Yes, an opportunity is looming to turn those statistics around by making a New Year resolution about our driving patterns and playing a personal part in helping to reduce this road trauma.


This just the right time to make changes for the better and some simple shifts in your driving that could make a huge difference to you and those around you. Making the roads a safer and less stressful place could be the easiest resolution you can make – and keep. The following bad habits should be left off: Driving too close to other vehicles, skipping the red light, driving too slowly, driving too fast, using the road under the influence of drugs and alcohol, road rage and driving without a license.

In my opinion, the problematic behavior at the root of most of these issues is the same one- a lack of obedience and empathy and that is something that must be tackled head on, by all Batswana. Empathy is defined as the ability to understand the feelings of another; to put yourself in another person’s shoes, so to speak. Empathy and obedience are key to a healthy and well functioning society- otherwise chaos and strife will rule.


Sadly, it is clear in which direction the pendulum has swung in Botswana today.Road safety- or the lack thereof- is one clear illustration of this lack of obedience and empathy. When one drives recklessly, at an excessive speed, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they are endangering not just themselves but everyone in their path- passengers in their vehicle, pedestrians, bicyclists, and all others on the road.


The killing of otherwise healthy people by drunk and reckless drivers is a blow to society as well as their families. Statistics show that the majority of traffic fatalities are working-age individuals. These individuals are often key salary earners and contributors to their families, and their untimely deaths represent a substantial loss to the economy.

Cultivating greater empathy for one another needs to be at the forefront of all efforts. Every driver needs to think about other road users as people with lives and loved ones, dreams and goals just like them, not just someone “in their way” or to be outrun. They need to realize that driving recklessly or when impaired has seriously consequences. Stiff penalties can play a key role in deterrence. Young people need serious drivers’ education and corrupt practices such as the purchasing of licenses, must be eliminated.


Peer pressure/support also has a crucial role to play in behavior change. Relationships with people who are supportive of behavior change, and who can suggest alternatives and reinforce positive change are essential. It is not necessary to consume alcohol or drugs in order to have fun. Friends and family members should pay attention to the behavior of their loved ones, and be alert to signs of alcohol/drug abuse or impairment.


Just a little bit of planning ahead- deciding on a designated driver, or putting aside money for taxi fare- can mean the difference between life and death. In terms of speeding, passengers in public transportation must not be afraid to raise their voices and concerns to the drivers of the vehicles. Statistics also shows that most traffic fatalities are pedestrians. This is where empathy comes into play again. Going slower and sharing the road with others can only add years to one’s life; impaired and reckless driving is a sure recipe for disaster.

This carnage on our roads can be contained. The change starts with each of us. We are all road users. Let us all therefore commit to playing our part on the road to zero road deaths. Note- I am deliberately not using the term ‘accident’ to describe these deaths. An accident is something that happens without warning, unexpectedly. Things that can be prevented are not accidents. The lives snuffed out due to reckless and impaired driving are loses that could have been prevented, not ‘accidental’ deaths.


Therefore this new year, let us resolve to be more responsible and safer drivers. Let’s stop accepting death and serious injury as just part and parcel of using our roads. We need to work together – the NGOs, government, the community, police and businesses and importantly every road user to reduce the number of deaths on our roads. Parents have a very significant role to play in helping their children to stay safe on the road. The best possible advice for any parent is to be a good role model.


Don’t be the parent to take that quick phone call when driving or to have a couple drinks before getting behind the wheel. How you drive as a parent will set the standard for the young upcoming drivers. The Police need more breathalysers and radar guns to apprehend speeders and drunk drivers. They also need to stop taking bribes to look the other way and let perpetrators go free.


There needs to be better enforcement and consistent application of the law, with all law breakers being equally penalized, instead of different standards for those with more economic, social, or political power. Official flouting of the laws- by Police as well as other ‘big ones’ in society- are a massive part of the problem for their behaviour sends a message to others that these crimes are not serious and that they too can act with impunity.


As citizens, we need to call for greater accountability and better service from all the public officials who, as servants of the people, are mandated to protect and serve all equally. Increased lighting and other physical safety measures must also be implemented, drivers better educated, and bars and other establishments selling alcohol engaged in the campaign.

We have to avoid another year tarnished by road trauma and together we can do this starting with early by making a pledge to be quality road users this year. This new year, let us resolve to cultivate more obedience and empathy for others, especially those sharing the roads with us. Let us resolve to be more responsible and safer drivers. This, along with greater accountability and proper, fair implementation of the laws is key to improving road safety in Botswana.

Together we can all play our part in radically reducing the road toll and making 2017 a year to remember for all the right safe reasons. With that said - how will YOU contribute towards safer roads this year?

Maatla Otsogile is Coordinator - Society of road safety ambassadors
Email  sorsa.ub@gmail.com  sorsa.ub@gmail.com



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