Analysis: BOB MUBANGA
AS A third-world country in Africa, Zambia’s economic viability needs an effective transport sector in order to convey goods and services from one destination to the other.
Zambia’s road transport system has both public service vehicles and private ones which include big buses, minibuses and taxis. There are times when these vehicles may be involved in road traffic accidents. Accidents have become a menace to society. This has led to loss of many lives. According to statistics, road traffic accidents in Zambia are ranked the third highest cause of death after malaria and HIV and AIDS, second leading cause of death for people aged between five and 20. Road traffic accidents claim over 1,000 people every year in Zambia.
Government has invested so much in road safety awareness programmes and other equally important road safety and preventive measures. There is need, therefore, for private sector players, such as those in the transport business, to think seriously about the safety of their clients and appreciate the massive financial, legal, reputational, and social implications road traffic crashes have on their organisations. Therefore, the Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA) should devise a policy under which all companies that provide transport services and use public roads shall be compelled to comply with and adhere to safety regulations so that passengers are not subjected to any dangers. In light of the above, it is the responsibility of these firms to consider the welfare of its employees, especially drivers who in most cases travel long distances without an assistant. For every long-distance journey, there has to be at least three drivers to avoid situations whereby the same driver completing the journey jumps on another bus the following day.
In view of the above, it is medically proven that resting is a medicine. Most drivers on long-distance trips don’t rest enough. These are some of the dangers which this fleet business poses to other road users. Managing the transportation business should involve a planning process and mapping out possible hazardous routes. In this regard it should be a collective resolve of RTSA and the owners of the buses to ensure that each company that provides a service has deports in the various routes and districts where they do their business. It is there that buses should be inspected before they can proceed. For optimal safety, vehicle inspections, prior to and following every journey, should be conducted, as well as the development of a preventive maintenance programme to monitor vehicle status. Further, it is my considered view that an officer from RTSA be permanently present in such location(s) to sanction the journey after a thorough inspection of the motor vehicle. Where the bus fails the inspection, an alternative should be provided as was the case during the days of UBZ.
According to research and the statistics available, most road traffic accidents that have occurred are as a result of negligence, fatigue and failure by drivers to report a mechanical fault, as well as non-compliance with the road signals and other regulations. Distracted drivers are the top cause of car accidents in Zambia, particularly in the cities. A distracted driver is a motorist who diverts his or her attention from the road, usually to talk on a cell phone, send a text message or eat food while driving. It is imperative that reporting guidelines on road safety should be prioritised by making sure that road traffic inspectors take note of such distracted drivers. For bus operators, reporting guidelines should also be part of their management system where drivers should report any vehicle malfunction. This is more dependent on driver attitudes, knowledge, health status, and skills which owners of buses should prioritise and must be a process for driver monitoring that must exist as an ongoing programme. Road safety education and motivation programmes are essential in ensuring drivers are constantly learning and expanding their knowledge.
In light of the above, it is therefore important to consider workable measures that shall not only help reduce road carnages, but also be part of road traffic accident management systems such as the introduction of mobile fitness tests and highway surveillance system to monitor drivers’ behaviour in order to mitigate the number of traffic accidents on the roads. This will in turn make our roads become safe places for all users. However, the highest possible reductions in road casualties cannot be achieved by enforcement and education of offenders alone. There is, therefore, need for all stakeholders such as the police and RTSA officers to always work together in all areas concerning road safety. Remedial education that works in tandem with enforcement will achieve improved road safety outcomes. The police, therefore, in this cause, must focus on road users who pose the highest threat whilst responding appropriately to those who have shown a momentary lapse of judgement or care while driving.
The author is a Lusaka-based social commentator and local governance analyst.