The first National Road Safety Symposium, ‘Effective Partnerships for Road Safety’, which took place at the end of October at the Gaborone International Convention Centre in Botswana, saw pledges made by the private, public and civil society sectors to reduce the level of road accidents in Botswana.
The conference discussed the country’s pledge to the UN ‘Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020’, under the five pillars – Road Safety Management, Safer Roads & Mobility, Safer Vehicles, Safer Road Users and Post Crash Response. The keynote speaker was Russell White, CEO of the Australian Road Safety Foundation, who drew parallels between Botswana and Australia in the 1970s when it too had exceptionally high fatalities.
The interventions that have led to Australia’s current low rates included improving vehicle design standards and safety, standardising road rules across national and regional authorities, introducing compulsory seat belt use for front and rear occupants, heavy police enforcement of the ‘no drinking and driving’ laws and community action to achieve buy in.
“To lead cultural change requires high quality data to identify ‘hot spots’, improving road standards, training at both school and the workplace and a commitment to shift paradigms of road users,” he said.
According to White, one of the most successful movements in Australia has been the introduction of ‘Fatality Free Friday’. The idea is to have one day in which there are no deaths on the road. There are normally about 5-6 deaths per day. (South Africa has an average of 45 deaths on its roads every day).
“We believe if drivers are asked to actively concentrate on road safety and safe driving for just one day in the year, they will drive safer for the next few days too and, over time, change their outlook completely, consciously thinking about safety every day they get behind the wheel,” said White.
First introduced in 2007, the campaign has changed beliefs and habits through a concerted marketing strategy using the media, social media and installations. One year, the display consisted of 1 500 pairs of shoes, representing the number of deaths in a year through road accidents. South Africa has 15 000 roads deaths per year. Another, it was the map of Australia with 1 500 number plates. The number of people who have signed up grows each year and this year’s campaign achieved almost 20 million consumer impressions through TV, print, radio and online.
“The usual catch phrases for road safety wither away and the movement needs powerful concepts if it is to make behavioural shifts. As the HIV/Aids campaign made attitude and behavioural changes, so too must road safety achieve this goal. There is an opportunity here for leadership and partnership to take the helm and achieve the UN goals. As we said this year at Fatality Free Friday, the key to road safety is in your hands,” said White.
Pillars of strength, unity
Key to the success of the conference was that this was not solely a government conference but saw considerable input from the private sector and civil society from inception to conclusion. The Botswana Police Service, Debswana Diamond Company, Department of Road Transport and Safety, G4 Consulting Engineers, the Motor Vehicle Accident Fund, Premiere, SSI Botswana, the UN and the World Health Organization joined the Botswana Ministry of Transport and Communication as partners in the event.
This convergence of stakeholders meant that all delegates pledged action and commitment towards finding solutions to the problems of road accidents in Botswana, thus ensuring full compliance to the effective implementation of the UN global plan by 2020.
- Pillar 1 will establish an independent Road Safety organisation, charged with carrying out policy decisions on road safety, to be in place by the end of 2016; it will also review current legislation.
- Pillar 2 will work on increasing liaison between the private and public sector on the holistic planning and designing of national and urban roads and planned maintenance of these roads.
- Pillar 3 will review the current vehicle roadworthiness tests and create a spot-check system to improve roadworthiness. Similar checks are required on public transport carriers, freight carriers and even animal-drawn vehicles.
- Pillar 4 – will create and disseminate social media messages to change road user behaviour, at the same time encouraging stronger policing presence in high-speed area and taverns.
- Pillar 5 will establish an Advisory Board by 31 March 2016 to create national trauma response system, based on a London model
The Minister of Transport and Communication, Tshenolo Arithur Mabeo, emphasised that though the number of deaths per annum (323 in 2014) may seem low, the majority of this figure comprises the youth of the country.
“Careless drivers are still the number one cause of road traffic accidents. While most other causes – animals on the roads, vehicle defects, driver fatigue, pedestrian error etc show small decreases, worryingly the 2014 statistics show a growing increase in accidents as a result of drivers under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, unlicensed drivers and weather and road surface conditions. Confirmed fatalities in the period January to mid October 2015 stand at over 315 by comparison to 262 for the same period last year, an approximate 20% increase,” said Minister Mabeo.
“Our human resources are an important and highly valued asset – much of government’s resources are spent in educating our people and keeping them healthy from disease only to have their lives devastated by an entirely preventable road accident. Prevention of accidents is key and I urge you all here to put your considerable abilities together to find ways of reducing road accidents.
“This Symposium, with its theme of ‘Effective Partnerships for Road Safety’, is exactly what we need to be able to address the road safety issues in a systematic, structured and inclusive manner,” he said.
Debswana CEO, Balisi Bonyongo, stated that safety is of paramount importance to the group and it wishes the organisation’s high standard of work and transport to be replicated on Botswana roads.
“Safety is a state of mind in which you are constantly aware of your alignment within the environment. Safety is personal and must stop being a mind exercise and drop into our hearts. We have friends and family that expect us to be there, so we need to extend our hands and make this partnership work. I urge everyone to provide best practice, drive behaviour change and make Botswana sparkle.”
There are approximately 18 482 km of roads in Botswana, with the main routes being the A1 from Lobatse to Francistown, the A2 from Lobatse to the Namibian border (the Trans-Kgalagadi Highway), and the A3 from Francistown to Maun (Okavango Swamps). The road accidents are clustered around the eastern portion of the country on the A1 in particular. Botswana, at 581 730 square kilometres, is slightly larger than France, has a population of 2 million and has an estimated 400 000 vehicles on the roads.