VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka
ROAD experts agree that night driving presents unique challenges, such as increasing the risk of accidents which claim lives and cause serious injuries.
The Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA) statistics for 2016 show that 92 lives were lost from January to November 2016 in night road traffic accidents.
The data shows that 68 percent of road traffic accidents occur at night, while only 32 percent in the day.
RTSA public relations manager Frederick Mubanga explains that research has shown that most fatal road crashes happen in the night.
Many drivers, however, believe it is safer to drive in the night because of the low volume of traffic on the highways.
But the occurrence of accidents in the night suggests that the motorists can’t cope with challenges of driving in the night such as fatigue and reduced visibility.
The most obvious way to avoid the dangers common to night driving is to simply not drive at night, especially for public service vehicle (PSV) drivers.
This was Government’s reasoning last year when it banned PSVs and truckers from driving after 21:00 hours.
Therefore, when Government imposed a ban on night driving in 2016 under statutory instrument (SI) 76 of 2016, the idea was to improve road safety on Zambian roads.
The regulation to restrict the movement of PSVs at night came into effect on 28th November 2016 and also outlawed the movement of any freight or goods vehicles between 21:00 and 05:00 hours.
PSV including buses and trucks were banned from moving at night in a bid to reduce the occurrence of fatal road traffic accidents in Zambia.
The high volume of vehicles on the highways has also been cited as a contributing factor to the upsurge in road traffic accidents in the past decade.
RTSA statistics indicate that the number of vehicles on Zambia’s roads has almost tripled to 700,000 between 2006 and 2016. The same period has also seen an increase in road fatalities, with more than 2, 000 people dying in 2016 alone.
The ban on driving has generated different views from transporters, bus owners and the travelling public.
Concerns from freight operators and firms that rely on heavy cargo in their production chain prompted Minister of Transport and Communication Brian Mushimba to allow goods trucks to move in the night.
“The revision to SI 76 that has separated public passenger vehicles from trucks is meant to give an opportunity to trucks that carry cargo to operate 24 hours a day,” Mr Mushimba said.
This means that trucks that transport copper, Zambia’s main export commodity, will be allowed to move at night.
The minister emphasised that the night travel ban will remain in force for passenger vehicles.
The move to allow drivers of goods trucks to operate 24 hours every day is expected to improve the flow of goods for productive sectors like mining, manufacturing and agriculture.
Government and key stakeholders evaluated the social and economic impact of SI 76 and realised that restricting the movement of goods trucks had a negative impact on the country’s economic output.
The decision was also motivated by the need to reduce the cost of doing business. The ban meant that firms were losing business hours on prolonged travels and also spending more money on allowances for truckers who were taking longer than usual to deliver goods.
“We want to give an opportunity to the trucks that transport a lot of cargo to continue running 24 hours a day,” Mr Mushimba said.
He said RTSA has, however, set minimum conditions that transporters need to meet to qualify to operate in the night.
These conditions will require transporters to put in place sound driver and vehicle management systems to qualify for a RTSA permit for night driving.
Further, the SI76 requires all freight operators to fit their trucks with Global Positioning System (GPS) to allow RTSA to monitor the speed of trucks.
RTSA chief executive officer Zindaba Soko is calling on freight operators to ensure that they fit their trucks with GPS.
Mr Soko said the operators also need to put in place driver tagging systems to monitor how much time drivers spend on the road to avoid driver fatigue, which is one of the triggers for road traffic accidents.
In addition, the agency intends to intensify compliance patrols to ensure that freight operators adhere to traffic rules and regulations.
“If any freight operator is found carrying passengers and abrogating the conditions set by the Agency, we will be left with no option but to revoke their permit,” Mr Mubanga said.
Zambia Chamber of Mines supports Government’s decision to allow trucks to move in the night.
“The mining sector is obviously relieved that the measures have been amended to reflect the reality of transporting essential industrial inputs and commodities on our roads,” president Nathan Chishimba said.
The Centre for Trade Policy and Development (CTPD) says allowing goods trucks to move in the night will enhance economic activity in the country.
CTPD head of programmes and research Brian Mwiinga said the move is progressive because time is a crucial factor in the efficient delivery of goods. If this is not taken care of, he fears it could slow down business activities and negatively affect the economy.
“This is a smart move, the ban was an inconvenience to truckers,” Mr Mwiinga said.
He said Zambia’s landlocked status demands the unrestricted movement of cargo because it has a direct impact on economic output.
Mr Mwiinga said the unrestricted movement of goods will positively impact the economy, but warns that drivers should be cautious to avoid road traffic accidents.
Zambia Association of Manufacturers (ZAM) president Rosetta Chabala says reversing the ban on truckers’ night travel is progressive because it would improve the flow of goods and services.
Ms Chabala also expects the move to trigger stronger productivity due to efficient delivery and distribution of materials.
Truckers Association of Zambia (TAZ) TAZ chairperson Shashi Patel commended Government for the move, which he says would improve the economic welfare of truck drivers.