So, more than 200 lives were lost on our roads during the festive season? Do I feel vindicated in my opinion expressed in this column just before Christmas that Zimbabwean drivers are the worst in the world? The police issued 13 048 tickets for various traffic offences. There were in total 1 244 road accidents, 111 of which were fatal while 977 people are, as we speak, lying on their backs in beds nursing their injuries! The statistics for once don't lie; indeed our driving leaves a lot to be desired!
Many drivers will blame the poor state of the roads for the accidents; they will say the roads are potholed, are badly marked and signposted and are generally in a poor state of repair. But what should all these bad conditions of the road tell any driver with a little bit of common sense? Don't they tell the driver to exercise extreme caution? But, as the police will tell you, the accidents were mostly a result of drunken driving, unnecessary speeding, overloading and defective vehicles. This means, in spite of the bad conditions of the roads, the drivers did not exercise any caution.
There is one thing common among drivers who drive under the influence of alcohol, who speed, who overload and who drive defective vehicles; they place very little value on human life, whether their own or that of the people they carry.
Now, putting a value on human life is not anything the Highway Code can teach; if a driver doesn't know intuitively the value of life, he can never learn the habits that instruct good driving. It is a sad fact of life in Zimbabwe that the people who have failed to go far in school are the very people who, because of a lack of alternative professions, end up driving our buses.
Many may find this conclusion a little snobbish but take a look at the people driving our urban commuter minibuses and tell me what level of education they have. See how they recklessly stop on the highway to pick and drop passengers and tell me they value the lives they carry and those carried in other vehicles!
If the police had recorded the levels of education of the 13 000 drivers they ticketed during the festive season, what conclusions would have been obvious? How many times have you asked yourself in response to the action of the commuter omnibus driver ahead of you, "Did this guy go to school?" It's going to be painful to agree with this, but drivers need to have a certain level of education, preferably post-O'level.
Let's look at the haulage truck driver who crammed 63 people into his truck and killed 18 of them. A little bit of education would have told him that carrying people is different from carrying rocks. The fact that a truck can carry a block of granite from Mtoko to Cape Town does not mean it can similarly carry 100 people even if they weigh a lot less than the rock. The rock sits solidly on the rig and does not fidget; people move about and constantly affect the equilibrium of the vehicle hence, in buses they have to stick to their seats. A little education would have told him that if a haulage truck was meant to carry people, it would have been designed like a bus!
Bus drivers who overload are also unaware of the engineering mathematics that go into bus building; making people stand in the aisle affects the bus's balance. Engineers were not fools to arrange seats the way they did and to say how many people the bus should carry!
Road construction is also instructed by intricate knowledge of civil engineering; there are lots of centrifugal and centripetal forces at work as a vehicle negotiates curves in the road, hence the speed limits and the road markings drivers see along the roads. But if one doesn't have a fair knowledge of the physical sciences, all these signs are lost to him.
But travellers are also to blame for the situations they find themselves in. One weakness of Zimbabweans is that they don't plan their travel meticulously. Many a time we have seen a whole family of more than five standing by the roadside trying to find transport to their rural home for Christmas. Tragically we have read about whole families being wiped out in accidents during the festive season. The question to ask is why the whole family has to travel in the festive season when everyone knows transport is problematic!
The schools would have closed a fortnight earlier, meaning children could have travelled outside the congested times. Sometimes we see families moving with household goods such as beds, wardrobes and sofas also during this period. In the end, whatever form of transport the family gets has to carry everything even if it was not designed to carry the things. Hence we see beds hanging precariously on little jalopies while human heads stick out of every opening. Not only is the vision of the driver obstructed but again the whole question of balance comes in.
Holiday travel should be relaxing, enjoyable and fulfilling. As one travels along the roads in the countryside, one should enjoy the sights they see; the landmarks, the indigenous trees and the occasional wild animal walking in the forest. But we are denied this luxury by lack of planning. We want to travel during the Christmas rush when buses are cracking at the seams with people, when there is hardly any breathing space in the bus, etc. The truth is: if we planned our travel a little more intelligently there wouldn't be any need to jump into any vehicle that comes along. Even the drivers we entrust with our lives would be able to put into practice good driving habits.
How guilty is the travelling public of making it impossible for the driver to concentrate while driving, to avoid driving when tired, to never drive in a hurry, to drive a vehicle with safety features, to follow safety rules and to ensure we are all wearing safety belts?
Zimbabwean traffic laws ought to be made more stringent so that errant drivers are punished severely. Certain traffic offences should call for the cancellation of driving licences, meaning the driver would have to re-apply for a new licence.
This ensures drivers are more careful, and the public should also play their part in ensuring safety on the roads.