10 January 2018

Zambia: Tackling Menace of RTAS

REPORTS that more than 115 drivers were last year convicted by the Kabwe magistrates' court for causing death by dangerous driving, mainly on the Great North Road, are worrisome.

Indeed, as Kabwe High Court Judge Charles Zulu says, such a high number of causing death by dangerous driving on just one road is a matter of serious concern.

Worse, this is despite the imposition of custodial sentences, especially in instances where aggravating circumstances have been proved.

The Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA) has at times cited billboards mounted on the islands of the highways as contributors to the high number of road traffic accidents on the Zambian roads.

According to RTSA, this may have contributed to people being bashed as billboards obstruct pedestrians from seeing on-coming vehicles.

But this does not surely hold water on the Great North Road where the billboards are widely spaced out and erected some distance from the busy highway.

So there is a need to look elsewhere for the reasons for such a high number of convictions, bearing in mind that there are also cases that have ended in acquittals.

As RTSA rightly says, these include the use of second-hand tyres by motorists, as well as negligence by drunken drivers, as some of the other major causes of road traffic accidents in Zambia.

At some point, RTSA chief executive officer Zindaba Soko was quoted in the media saying 65 per cent of the drivers, especially over the weekends, drove under the influence of alcohol and, so ended up causing accidents, which he said could have been avoided.

Besides, not just those driving under the influence of alcohol, as evidence has shown that even some of those who are sober, for some reason or other, fail to obey road traffic rules.

In addition, road sector authorities do have a share of the blame, especially where they fail to mark road signs, or re-mark faded ones. This anomaly is quite visible on many highways in this country.

Furthermore, officers charged with the task of road maintenance seem to be lacking in this area, and this is despite the collection of toll fees from toll plazas which are now dotted around the country.

Because of this, potholes are not only found on roads in townships but on major highways, with the Chibombo-Kabwe and Mpika-Kasama stretches being two examples of highly accident-prone areas.

Of course, officials from the roads sector have their own excuses, including what they say is the challenge of enforcing a raft of more than 200 traffic rules enshrined under the Road Traffic Act. They say this is one of the reasons road traffic accidents remain stubbornly high in Zambia.

The other is limited road safety enforcement personnel which they say has resulted in only up to 80 per cent of the rules currently being enforced.

Sources from the Ministry of Transport and Communications recently said instead of the approved 1,500 personnel structure, RTSA, which has the mandate to enforce road safety, only had about 300 and that of these, only 70 were enforcement officers.

The other challenge that road safety enforcement has, they say, is limited allocation of funds from the National Budget, arguing that road safety enforcement alone requires at least K1 billion a year.

No nation has yet to come up with a road-accident proof formula but all resources and means available to the authorities need to be harnessed and brought to bear on a matter of growing concern for all citizens.

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